University of Reading: Inclusive Training Opportunities At University Museum Thanks To Ground-Breaking Programme

The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) at the University of Reading is to provide training and mentoring opportunities for deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people, as part of a new initiative that aims to transform the museum sector.

The MERL is one of 20 organisations selected to participate in the Curating for Change project by Screen South, which, through its pioneering Accentuate Programme, has received an award of £950,900 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players.

The England-wide heritage project will provide a landmark Fellowship and Traineeship programme which includes fully funded paid work placements with mentoring and training opportunities for deaf or hard of hearing (D/deaf), disabled and neurodivergent people wanting to pursue a career within museums.

Fellows and Trainees will be hosted by more than 20 partner museums from across England and each Fellow will have space to research and curate a range of new exhibitions and events for more than 240,000 visitors across 9 locations. The MERL will host an 8-week traineeship in Spring 2022 as part of the programme.

“Welcoming a dedicated Curating For Change Trainee to the University of Reading will help us to break down barriers to participation in curatorial practices and processes” – Dr Ollie Douglas, The MERL

Dr Ollie Douglas, Curator of Collections at The MERL, said: “The MERL is delighted to be hosting a new colleague as part of this important scheme. Welcoming a dedicated Curating For Change Trainee to the University of Reading will help us to break down barriers to participation in curatorial practices and processes.

“We are also keen to support the many Curating For Change Fellows set to work closely with our partner museums across the sector.”

Isabel Hughes, Associate Director and Head of Curatorial and Public Engagement, said: “I’m looking forward to serving as our local Curating for Change Champion. At The MERL we are committed to working towards a more diverse workforce.

“Taking part in the Curating for Change programme and its Network will provide a strong impetus to achieve this, both within the University’s museums as well as across our wider collaboration with Reading Museum, as part of Museums Partnership Reading.”

This is the first time that such a significant range and calibre of museums have come together to create a network of activities that will begin to tackle the under-representation of disabled people in museums.

Curating for Change will start to address the significant gap in access and employment across the heritage sector which, to date, had been largely ignored.

The rich and diverse history of D/deaf and disabled people is rarely exhibited in museums, with few objects in collections reflecting the history of disabled people. Without D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people in curatorial roles, the challenges are significant in terms of telling authentic narratives that relate to disability history.

In addition, there are barriers in the ways in which disabled people experience museums. Exhibitions and displays are predominantly designed for ‘normal’ bodies, with minimal consideration given to how D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people will navigate and/or experience them.

This vital funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund will enable the Accentuate Programme to establish this new project, embedding change within host museums, that will in turn, generate learning and actions to be shared more widely across the sector. It will also provide a much-needed platform for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent curators to demonstrate their skills and unique insights, encouraging a new lens through which to consider heritage narratives and ways to engage audiences.

Based within the organisation Screen South, the Accentuate Programme creates landmark projects for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people across the cultural sector.

Esther Fox, Head of Accentuate, says “We are so excited that with thanks to National Lottery players’ support, we can at last tackle the huge problem of the under-representation of D/deaf and disabled people in our museums – both as staff, and in the collections and the stories that are told. We are privileged to be working with a whole range of wonderful museums to bring about this change. There is a commitment from right across the sector to improve equity and representation and Curating for Change will deliver the activities that will make this change a reality.”

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