School pupils and college students have been instrumental in developing a new digital resource that aims to widen access to museums for young people.
My Stories is an interactive learning tool aimed at encouraging young people to engage with art and exhibits in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – even allowing them to digitally overlay speech bubbles or emojis on paintings.
Designed with support from The Hunter Foundation, the pioneering experience begins in a dedicated space in the museum and sees small groups using tablets to collaborate on tasks and challenges throughout 22 galleries.
Jennifer Keenan, learning and activities curator, said groups of young people from different ages and backgrounds, including schools, colleges and projects within the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, have been trialling the scheme and giving feedback.
She said: “We’ve worked with kids from Castlemilk who’ve never been to the west end. They tend to be very streetwise but they stick to the one area.
“So what we’ve designed is not about young people having to understand a painting in a historical context, it’s about letting them connect to any of our objects on their own terms.
“The young people have really pushed us to take risks.”
Ms Keenan was encouraged to work in museums following schools trips as a child growing up in Liverpool, and said she knows how life changing the arts can be.
She added: “We can’t rest on our laurels because this is an amazing museum but it’s not an amazing museum to everyone so we have to ensure we meet all needs.”
Young people participate in a variety of games, activities and quizzes designed to get them to look at an object and encourage them to creatively express their thoughts and responses to the city’s collection.
By scanning QR codes in different galleries, pupils are encouraged to think and talk about what is going on in a painting, or what an artist was trying to convey.
Constance McSporran, Lianna Estall and Julia Cullen, all S6, have been involved in the project for a number of years and were at Kelvingrove to see the it come to fruition.
Constance said: “I didn’t really think of the gravity that it holds. Back then I thought I was just picking out wallpaper for a fun little room but now I see it I know how wonderful it is to be part of something that lets young people express themselves and will continue to do so.”
Lianna added: “The whole project is about connection, connecting people to a place that they may never have gone to.”
All three young people have been regular visitors at the museum and art gallery, brought both by their parents and on school trips.
At their Glasgow school, Bellahouston Academy, an important moment in first year is the inaugural visit to Kelvingrove where pupils are allowed to explore the exhibits in pairs.
Murdo Macdonald, Acting Depute Headteacher, Bellahouston Academy, said: “Since I’ve worked at Bellahouston I’ve taken all the S1s to Kelvingrove for the day and they curate their own visit.
“Instead of a teacher telling them what to look at or a parent telling them to look at the same things they were told to look at by their parents, it’s a mark of starting secondary school that we were giving them the freedom to wander around and explore.”
At Bellahouston Academy 60% of pupils are from a BAME background and so, Mr Macdonald said, encouraging access to places pupils might not otherwise visit is vital.
He added: “In our school, as a response, the number of children studying humanities grew quite substantially and it was because they had been exposed to a place like this.
“To me, growing up in Maryhill, Kelvingrove marked the centre of Glasgow. I always thought as a child that if a city puts lots of old things that it viewed as important in a building then that should be viewed as the centre of the city.”
My Stories is open to schools, colleges, and agencies such as youth groups and charities like The Prince’s Trust and is a successor to The Centre of New Enlightenment.
TCoNE, funded by Sir Tom Hunter, opened in July 2006, when Kelvingrove Museum reopened after a £27.6 million, three-year refurbishment.
Sir Tom, Founder of The Hunter Foundation, said he was initially encouraged to become involved by Sir Norman Macfarlane, the Scottish business titan who lent his support to an array of arts and culture organisations, including Kelvingrove.
He said: “It’s designed by young people and for young people. Way back, Norman Macfarlane phoned me when they were doing the first refurbishment and I said, ‘I don’t know anything about museums, it’s not my cup of tea,’ and he said, ‘You’re perfect, let me educate you’.”
Did he manage it? “Well, £5 million later… But just as I didn’t think this place was for me, I could see that young people might think this was just some stuffy old place, quite intimidating, and not access it.
“It was a challenging brief and we were challenging the museum to get the young people in to design it for the way they want to consume knowledge and media these days.
“It can be updated quickly and inexpensively as we get more feedback from young people, it will be ever changing.
“What a resource for Glasgow.”
Technology that didn’t exist when TCoNE was launched in 2006, now allows everyone to enjoy a taste of the new digital experience, via a tailored version called My Stories Lite, which can be accessed by all visitors via a smartphone.
It is hoped this immersive approach will attract new audiences by encouraging more people to see museums as a welcoming space for them.