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Transformers: Supporting New Ideas

Diana Morton, Outreach and Access Manager, City of Edinburgh Council

Over the last year I have been privileged to take part in the Transformers programme, run by the Museums Association and funded in Scotland by Museums Galleries Scotland.

Transformers supports participants to develop new ideas and bring about change within their organisations. The programme involves training, peer learning and a micro-funding grant to enable participants to develop a project. In my case, this was the community project and exhibition Proud City: LGBTQIA+ Edinburgh.

In summer 2015 I started my Transformers journey, travelling, with excitement (and some trepidation), to the first residential course at Great Missenden. We met with the other Transformers and soon got to know each other, spending time hearing about new approaches, ways to develop and pitch ideas, and influence change from a range of experts. We also took part in peer learning and developed our ideas, before pitching for a micro funding grant.

I soon got to work on my project idea: to develop an exhibition exploring the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in Edinburgh. I approached community partners and made contact with LGBT Health and Wellbeing who were incredibly supportive throughout the project.

 

Proud City: LGBTQIA+ Edinburgh exhibition, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

Proud City: LGBTQIA+ Edinburgh exhibition, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

 

One of the other main aims of the project was to work much more closely with curatorial colleagues. So I set up a working group where we discussed issues ranging from contemporary collecting to curatorial control as well as practicalities of the exhibition. One of the bigger challenges would actually be readying the gallery space, as it had not been used for exhibitions before.

These were aspects of the project which Transformers really helped to support. In the training we explored how to pitch ideas, build project teams and use our influencing skills, all of which really helped when ‘selling’ the project idea to colleagues and building a working group. Transformers also helped to build my personal resilience, so when faced with challenges I felt much better equipped to resolve these.

I also feel that having the support of Transformers in running this project gave me the opportunity to experiment with alternative ways of working and gave me the courage to take considered risks. Taking part has given me the confidence to stand up for my ideas when challenged and to be more confident when speaking out about potential improvements to our service. The support of a coach was also very helpful and I really benefitted from having an external advisor who could bring objective advice to the project.An Inspiration Day in Newcastle in October helped to keep the project on track. This was an opportunity for some of my colleagues to find out more about the Transformers programme, meet other museum professionals, learn some new skills and start planning the project in more detail.

The Transformers also were assisted with the cost of going to the Museums Association Conference in Birmingham. It was a really interesting couple of days. It is always good to hear about new ideas, meet up with other museum professionals and learn about the wider context of the sector.

At the end of January 2016, we invited a group from LGBT Health and Wellbeing to the Museum Collections Centre (our store). We viewed LGBT collections and asked for the group’s suggestions of objects to display and stories to tell. The result of these discussions was amazing. People were incredibly generous and loaned and donated a range of items. These included: photographs and the certificate from the first religious same-sex marriage in Scotland; a civil partnership order of service; props, flyers and copies of a play exploring trans identity; posters and photographs of arts events; a life-size cut-out cartoon figure; t-shirts, music, flyers and a music stand from the Edinburgh Gay Men’s Chorus and cards from a manufacturer of LGBTQIA+ greetings cards.

 

Proud City: LGBTQIA+ Edinburgh exhibition, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

 

We also developed a film with people discussing LGBTQIA+ life in Edinburgh. Again the participants were great and shared their thoughts and stories. This film forms the centre piece of the exhibition. Other people gave time by volunteering on the project, by offering research assistance, photography and graphic design.

The exhibition launch was a lovely event, as all of those who had been involved came along. There was a great sense of community and I was so pleased that we could tell some of the amazing stories which had been shared with us.

‘Proud City: LGBTQIA+ Edinburgh’ was open at the People’s Story Museum until 29 October 2016. It marked 10 years since the exhibition ‘Rainbow City: Stories from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Edinburgh’ opened at the City Art Centre. The exhibition showcased museum collections, items loaned and donated by the LGBTQIA+ community as well as a specially commissioned film exploring life in Edinburgh in 2016. It provided an insight into LGBTQIA+ history and explored the lives of people in Edinburgh today.

I would like to say thank you to all who were involved in developing the exhibition. In particular, to LGBT Health and Wellbeing and to all of those who have appeared in the film, loaned or donated items or volunteered. Also special thanks are due to the Museums Association and Museums Galleries Scotland for their support.