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Achievers and believers

26 March 2009 by Richard

group of people by three plaques on a museum wall

Black achievers plaque unveiling

Hello there

Well before anyone sends me an accusatory email I will admit I am not the world’s best blogger! Strange really considering I constantly annoy my colleagues by saying “That would be a great blog picture” or “I can blog this and that” etc.  So I am back and hopefully once again people will read my blog to support my rather bold claim that this is one of the most visited parts of the National Museums Liverpool website. I can hear the laughter coming from the web team office! 

Ok, so what has happened since I was last in cyberspace? Well one very successful event at the museum was the US Black History Month event on 17 February called From Lincoln to Obama: a look at the progress of civil rights. As well as a number of noted speakers such as Simon Woolley from Operation Black Vote and Wally Brown, the ex principle of Liverpool Community College, three new Black Achievers plaques were unveiled. Most notable was President Obama, a very popular choice and someone who rightly deserves his position on the wall. Equally deserving though are the two achievers flanking him – the Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer  and Dr Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. 

As people have rightly pointed out there are thousands upon thousands of people who are achievers and who deserve a place on the Black Achievers Wall but we are receptive to any ideas so send your nominations in. As an insight to how the International Slavery Museum team often works our logic on this occasion was the connection between the three of them. The pioneering work Fannie Lou Hamer carried out on voting rights and the fact that Dr Jemison literally reached for the stars. This echoed Obama’s words at a recent rally where he said “The road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there”. Sentiments that people believed in and as a result voted in their millions.

I have also given several presentations recently. The first was at the Exhibiting Slavery:  Problematics & Possibilities conference at the Horniman Museum in London in early March. The conference looked at the legacies of the 2007 commemorations and the unprecedented interest in, and exploration of, the meaning of slavery in our contemporary moment. My paper focused on the issues involved in developing future strategies and programming for the museum such as a contemporary collecting policy and contemporary slavery educational resources whilst not ignoring transatlantic slavery and keeping repeat visitors, new audiences and interested parties alike, informed, interested and engaged.  

The audience of museum professionals, interested members of the public and some leading academics in the field were pretty receptive to my ideas. That said, the majority were from London institutions and it is not unusual for people to assume that London is indeed the centre of all major and significant advances in the cultural sector. This is not the case and although I do not get defensive I truly believe people need to be told in no uncertain terms that there is quite a bit going on up North! One example was when a member of the audience who I had never met before but who claimed that the International Slavery Museum would fudge the big issues; and would not dare to look at issues which central government might find uncomfortable. Neither I or members of the team are mavericks, we do not aim to simply shock or be controversial but equally we have strong values and a sense of purpose. I explained this to them and to be fair they acknowledged that their earlier statement was in fact unfounded on this occasion.

The other presentation took place at the University of Manchester to a group if students on the Manchester Leadership Programme on the subject of leadership and culture. Basically, how I deal with various challenges within the cultural sector. The vast majority of the hundred plus students had not visited the International Slavery Museum or indeed had much understanding of the subject. I also had the feeling that they expected a museum professional to turn up with cobwebs hanging off them! They might have been pleasantly surprised then (or shocked) when someone stood in front of them who spoke with a Yorkshire accent and announced that he would pick on someone to ask a question if they were too shy to do so!

Not sure I will blog again until the end of April as I am on leave for a few weeks. I am going to Japan, and even though it is not a work trip as such I am sure I will not be able to resist popping into a few museums. I’ll update you on my return.  

Sayonara for now.

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