RAMM + community groups
Take Flight: exploring migration through birds and poetry
RAMM’s big summer exhibition on the theme of Birds without Borders told incredible stories of the birds that migrate to and from the local area. It included folk tales and domestic objects. The museum wanted to feature thoughts of local residents to complement the curators’ vision. It was also important to find a way to highlight the human side of migration, alongside the Natural History story.
RAMM aims to reach people who might not already think of the museum as a space for them. Older people’s housing has been hit hard by local authority cuts, and residents are often very isolated by health issues, with few social opportunities. Many social housing residents think of the museum as a fusty schooltrip destination or a place to take small children. Likewise, migrant communities face challenges getting established in a new city, and do not find the museum without an invitation. Meanwhile, prisoners are frequently moved around the country, with few opportunities for creative activity.
RAMM chose groups who might relate to the topic of migration and flight, and who had expressed interest in collaboration. Exeter City Council housing staff were keen to promote social activity at sites near the Exe estuary; Hikmat Devon works to with people from around the world, providing a welcome in a new environment; an enthusiastic prison art group was looking for creative inspiration.
Birds flit through the background of our lives, a reminder of changes over time in the people and places around us. We envy wild birds’ freedom and their easy, soaring flight. RAMM invited three very different community groups to learn more about a few migrating species – cuckoos, swifts, swallows, lapwings and collared doves – and share the poetry they created in response.
An ornithologist and a poet visited the community groups in their own spaces, taking birds from RAMM’s handling collection. They listened to birdsong, shared and learnt amazing migration facts, and discussed folk stories and memories. The poet used games and conversation to put each group at ease.
The resulting poems – and pictures from the prison – were compiled into a digital display within the exhibition. It was accompanied by a large print format book, for visitors with poorer sight.
In the mixed-age international group – which included people from Canada, China, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines and Syria – many were writing in their second (or third) language. Children were often more confident in English, and encouraged their parents to have a go.
The older people’s group and Hikmat Devon were invited to visit the exhibition to celebrate their achievements and see the exhibition. They explored the bird migration theme through YouTube, sharing local footage, and music that made people laugh or sigh.
Birds give us something to talk about, and something meaningful to watch. The facts about migration can even change our outlook on the world.
What do people say?
“I see birds differently now.” Resident of older persons housing
“This Arabic song [Ya Tayr]… is very, very famous. The song relates to the birds exhibition. All Arabic people like Fairouz very much.” Hikmat member
“Metaphor is a way of finding new words to describe something we might have seen a hundred times.” John Wedgwood Clarke, poet
RAMM is developing software for online exhibitions, and will use the Take Flight project to showcase community-created content. This will enable RAMM to incorporate audio recordings. It will also reach a wider public remotely, including prisoners and their families.
The older persons’ social housing groups have started approaching RAMM directly to request visits from museum volunteers with handling sessions that interest them, such as the Second World War in Exeter.
Engagement Officer, RAMM
T 01392 265305
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