We're currently working on the redevelopment of the Clore Interactive Gallery at Manchester Art Gallery. The team consists of Liz Mitchell (Interpretation Development Manager), Alex Thorp (Family Learning Manager) and Alex Woodall (Interpretation Development Officer) working alongside several other members of staff from across departments.
The Clore Interactive Gallery (CIG) was developed for families with young children, and consists of a variety of both digital and hands-on more low-tech interactives. All of them were designed to encourage links with specific works in the collection, displayed alongside the interactive.
Since its opening about 8 years ago when the refurbished and redeveloped galleries reopened, the interactives have become increasingly difficult to maintain, are often broken, and most importantly, thinking about family learning and the way to engage audiences with collections through interactivity has moved on. Indeed, an important piece of research on the CIG undertaken by Pat Sterry at Salford University made it clear that links with the collection were simply not being made.
We've been researching latest developments in thinking about family engagement for almost 2 years now, and were particularly struck by papers and research from 2 conferences: one at the V&A back in 2002, and one held at the Getty in 2005. We've also been lucky enough to go on several research visits in the UK over the last couple of years: to Kelvingrove, Discover - the Centre for Children's Stories, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Weston Park Museum and York Art Gallery. All of these have helped us to shape plans for the current redevelopments of the CIG.
Yet it was reading some of the papers about galleries and children's museums in the USA that made us really want to go and investigate these first-hand, and meet colleagues from these place who could explain the thinking behind their projects and outcomes from evaluation undertaken.