Presented by the University of Cambridge Museums, Curating Cambridge took place between 20 October and 23 November 2014. Working with partners across the city a broad, accessible and inspiring programme was developed including major exhibitions, commissioned initiatives, and creative community-based events. Curating Cambridge was devised to coincide with Cambridge Festival of Ideas, building on the museums’ established contribution to the festival and developing opportunities for cross promotion.
Curating Cambridge aimed:
- To connect the public with the University of Cambridge Museums’ collections, focussing on the local population
- To develop a broader, more fluid audience base through highly inclusive and participatory programming
- To contribute to developing a stronger and more joined up Cambridge cultural offer, creating partnerships that extend beyond the programme
- To provide a collective platform for high profile University of Cambridge Museums’ exhibitions and an opportunity to showcase digital initiatives
“I loved that lots of local businesses were involved… and that the history of the city was a strong focus.”
Curating Cambridge was developed through consultation with the University of Cambridge Museums staff and city-wide cultural providers. Views, feedback and ideas from this consultation phase were an essential aspect of programme development. As a city-wide celebration of culture, it extended museum-based concepts and conversations to the wider community, to be interpreted, understood and enjoyed in a multitude of ways.
“an extensive range of opportunities and enticements”
Curating Cambridge themes:
- Our relationships to the things and places that surround us
- The stories and connections that add value and understanding to these things and places
- The stories of Cambridge and its treasures, looking to the past and to the future
- The process and forms of curation
- The themes provided a freedom and openness that was positively received by partners and public and that resulted in an exciting breadth of subjects with a wide range of approaches.
Local industry past and present was explored with exhibitions such as Science and Industry in Cambridge at the Whipple Museum and Micro Men: A Cambridge Story at the Centre for Computing History.
Local agenda was a strong feature. Issues that affect the everyday life of Cambridge residents were openly discussed between politicians, planners and the general public at events including Collusion’s Could Cambridge Be a Smarter City? and Kettle’s Yard’s The (New) Public Art in Cambridge.
The local art scene, a rich asset of the city, was highlighted through the inclusion of initiatives such as Cambridge Arts Salon’s Risky City: Makers of Contemporary Cambridge and Art Language Location, an innovative, multi-venue exhibition. Many early consultative connections with individual artists have since developed into separate programming opportunities with the University of Cambridge Museums.
A digital platform was provided with experimental and innovative projects such as Culture Finder, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology’s Cambridge Wall App, and Collusion’s Cambridge Invents; and online projects such as My Home is My Museum online collection by Caroline Wright.
Experimenting with visitor experience was enabled and encouraged through the scope of the programme. Events skipped from the fun and social (Big Game Night with Museum of Zoology and The Polar Museum, and Sedgwick Museum’s Escape Game) to the cerebral and provocative events (But is it Art? Redefining ‘Folk’ and the culture of collections at the Museum of Cambridge and What can plaster casts tell us about 3D printing? at the Museum of Classical Archaeology).
Centrally coordinated programming also provided a strategic approach to engaging audiences; a different way for partners to get involved; and a centralised response to the themes of Curating Cambridge.
In addition to the strength of the programme the bold, fresh and highly visible campaign reached out to people and played an important role in Curating Cambridge attracting over 55,000 visits. With these visits came a great range of perspectives, backgrounds and interests from a predominantly local population. Hands-on activities and behind the scenes experiences were highlights for our visitors, but they also enjoyed how the programme contributed to a sense of place, community spirit and seeing the city in a new and different way.
New ways of working were inspired by Curating Cambridge many of which remain, allowing new and existing audiences to engage in a continuously developing and innovative programme.
Joint funding opportunities have been successfully pursued, enabling work achieved through Curating Cambridge to develop and extend.
Case studies are being shared with other organisations, putting culture in Cambridge on a national and international platform.
Stronger partnerships have contributed to strengthening Cambridge’s cultural voice through organisations such as Cambridge Arts and Cultural Leaders.
Curating Cambridge has significantly opened up culture in Cambridge to new audiences whilst providing the opportunity for existing visitors to extend their knowledge and engage in new and playful ways. It was the first museum-led initiative of this size in Cambridge and encouraged innovative, experimental, and (at times) risky programming which was not only engaging but also mirrored the very nature of Cambridge – the place and the people.