The project, titled Things of the Least, will take place at Manchester Art Gallery and its Platt Gallery and uses objects from the Mary Greg Collection of over 4,000 everyday domestic items from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Artists will create sensory prototypes inspired by the collection for babies and toddlers to interact with. Their gestures and reactions will inform the development of an experimental exhibition that captures both aspects of the collection and the children’s interaction.
At the heart of the project are the diverse families taking part, including established Manchester residents and newly arrived families seeking sanctuary from countries like Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Iran. Their cultural traditions surrounding childhood treasures and rituals will help shape the contemporary resonance of the historic collection.
Things of the Least aims to energise relationships between artifacts, daily life and what different communities value. By prioritising the perspectives of the youngest gallery-goers, it will generate new forms of participatory, decolonised exhibition-making.
The research team is led by Dr Becky Shaw from Sheffield Hallam University’s Culture and Creativity Research Institute and Manchester Met’s Dr Rachel Holmes. It builds on their previous early childhood and artistic research.
Dr Becky Shaw, Reader in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “To be awarded the first of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Exhibition Fund pilot grants is significant recognition of the value of artistic research and artists as co-researchers. We can’t wait to work with children and carers to begin to fully understand the value of young children’s perspectives and their role in changing how we understand collections and cultural institutions.”
Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said: “This project will unlock fresh ways for different and often overlooked audiences to experience our historical and cultural heritage, ensuring its value can be fully appreciated by many more people, and it will also inform all our exhibition making. This represents another step in AHRC’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and to supporting our brilliant and innovative museums and galleries.”
Katy McCall and Liz Mitchell from Manchester Art Gallery are also part of the project team and bring decades of experience engaging underserved audiences.