Community engagement

Fiona YoungBy Fiona Young, Community Engagement Project Officer, Scotland Creates

Groups of 16 – 24-year-olds have been meeting regularly in five museums across Scotland to select, research and interpret the nation’s collections and tell us about their sense of place. It’s all part of Scotland Creates – A Sense of Place, a partnership project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland.

‘How do I sum up the exhibition? It was an amazing sight, seeing all the ideas that we started with come together to create something awesome. It was hard work but it paid off seeing the people who came along to see the animations.’ - Sam Fairbairn, Edinburgh participant.

Participants at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock curated a beautiful exhibition Legacy of Lace about the local industry, with a spectacular mix of contemporary and traditional lace. A trip to Molton Young and Boreland  inspired short films documenting the lace making process and a one-off lace piece designed by the group was produced there. To add extra flair, Scottish Ballet worked with a group of young participants from the area to produce a lace industry inspired dance! Dancers wore their own lace fascinators and Scottish Ballet kindly loaned a lace costume for the exhibition. Designed by Anthony MacDonald and made by Morag McKerrell, the costume was one of seven worn by the corps de ballet on stage, each in a different colour, in Carmen.

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock.

Museum nan Eilean participants curated A Reir na h-Aimsir – Without Rain there would not be Magic, an exhibition reflecting the changeable and magical weather of the Western Isles. This was enhanced by stunning photographs of island weather taken by local young photographers and a weather inspired dance performed by local pupils. Through a partnership with Live Music Now Scotland, young musicians wrote and performed a song with the band Skerryvore explaining their love of their home:

‘We wake up every day
In this beautiful place
It’s where I want to stay
It’s where I want to stay.’

The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock were inspired by the rich collection of Clyde pottery and put their design and photography skills to good use by curating Colour, Design and Creativity. They even added an entrepreneurial edge by selling their own designed coasters! Our partners Scottish Ballet again worked with us to produce a pottery industry inspired movement piece with the Greenock Wanderers under 16s rugby team, an exciting and successful collaboration.

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery.

National Museums Scotland participants scripted, storyboarded and produced three exciting animated films about Edinburgh’s scientific innovations with animator Cameron Duguid, whom they interviewed and selected to work with them. The group chose and researched the featured objects and their research was enhanced by visits to the Roslin InstituteTouch Bionics and James Clerk Maxwell’s house. Their opening event was part of the first Scottish Museum Takeover day and was enhanced by a variety of events for their peers including a song writing workshop with young pop-rock group Miniature Dinosaurs.

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the song writing workshop perform their composition

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the Museum Takeover Day song writing workshop perform their composition.

You can see a video all about Museum Takeover Day here:

The Youth Action Group (#YAGsop) at the McManus drew many inspirations from Dundee’s past, putting a new digital twist on journalism and combining the city’s cinematic and lens based industries with new technology and today’s Dundee. Their exhibition Sense of Place featured their very own electric cinema and was accompanied by a beautiful magazine. The group commissioned local dance company Small Petit Klein to choreograph a piece influenced by their explorations and this was performed at their opening night.

Poster advertising the exhibition at the McManus, Dundee

Poster advertising the Sense of Place exhibition at the McManus, Dundee.

As you can see there’s been lots happening across all venues! What has triumphed across all partner museums is the commitment and quality of work produced by the participants. Each individual has given their time and enthusiasm to the project and in return have grown in confidence and ability.

But it’s not over yet! You can see highlights of all these wonderful objects and creativity in Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place from 9 May – 31 August, in the Grand Gallery at National Museum of Scotland. Look out for events around the exhibition and join the conversation on twitter #scotlandcreates.

A guest post by Callum Madge, Creative Administrator at Lung Ha’s Theatre Company

Lung Ha’s aims to be a leading theatre company for people with learning disabilities, in Scotland and internationally. The company presents their promenade performance The Hold at National Museum of Scotland from 12-16 March 2014. Find out more and book tickets here

Having only joined Lung Ha’s Theatre Company in October 2013, The Hold is the first production I have worked on for the company. My previous experiences of drama have always been as a performer at an amateur level, so it’s been interesting for me to see how it works on a larger scale professional production and from a more administrative perspective. What I’ve witnessed has shown me the phenomenal amount of behind the scenes work that goes into a production. Even before rehearsals began there were script revisions, cast auditions and production team decisions.

Rehearsing The Hold

Left to right: Teri Robb, Anna Walsh, John Edgar, Maria Oller and Mark Howie rehearsing The Hold. Photo by Tom Hutter.

As I wasn’t a regular attendee of rehearsals, my connection to the show hasn’t perhaps been as intimate as others, but I’ve always felt wholly connected to The Hold because there are so many other facets to concern myself with, including making funding requests, booking rehearsal space and publicising the show on social media. When I do get to rehearsals, it’s fantastic to see the leaps forward the cast have made since my last visit and I’m always struck by their high level of professionalism. With disabled performers still fairly rare in professional theatre, I feel very privileged to be assisting in the creation of not just a good play (which it is), but a piece that showcases how disabled performers have just as much ability to immerse you in a narrative and evoke a strong emotional reaction as any other performer.

Rehearsing The Hold

Derek Darvell and John Edgar rehearsing The Hold. Photo by Tom Hutter.

Although the actor is undoubtedly important, when performing in school productions I was often too quick to let the attention and the stage time give rise to an intoxicating but inflated sense of self-worth. However, working off stage has made me appreciate the production process in a totally different manner. I have watched The Hold grow from a seedling concept into a towering timber giant with various elements (costume, design, marketing, etc) branching off, but all connected together by the trunk. Seeing the play develop like this has brought home how, although the audience may be watching the actors, what they are really looking at is the culmination of a multitude of people’s time and energy and with one missing component, the finished product could look quite different.

This idea of shared responsibility has been especially notable because The Hold is a collaborative project with National Museums Scotland. As a site-specific promenade piece inside the National Museum of Scotland, The Hold has frequently thrown up hiccoughs that wouldn’t necessarily exist in a traditional theatrical venue: what to use as a dressing room, how to transport set to a specific area, ensuring the safety of the museum collections, and so on. But with such a wealth of knowledge to draw on, a solution is never too far away.

Rehearsing The Hold

Kay-Ann Jacobs, Kenny Ainslie, Leigh Flynn, Colin McIllveny and Keith Watson rehearsing The Hold. Photo by Tom Hutter.

Because the Museum is an institution designed to immerse the general public in its collections and exhibitions, performing inside it gives a sense of immediacy with the audience. Theatre is sometimes associated with the privileged classes, but performing in a museum (a space for everyone) transcends this perceived divide, giving a stronger sense of connectivity between performers and viewers. I have learned a great deal while working on The Hold, but most importantly it has been a hugely enjoyable experience and I look forward to seeing the finished production.

A guest post by Stuart McMillan, Community Development Manager, Venture Trust

Venture Trust, National Museums Scotland and young carers groups in Glasgow have joined forces to enable 12 young people with caring responsibilities to explore changing land use triggered by Scotland’s silent revolution, the Lowland Clearances, since the 1700s. 

During the 18th century, Scotland’s traditional system of agriculture changed radically. But as farming methods were modernised and small portions of land consolidated, many cottars and tenant farmers were forced to leave their homes, displaced to the industrialised cities of Glasgow or Edinburgh or seeking new opportunities overseas.

The group’s research in to the Lowland Clearances has already begun, with a visit to the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride.

The group visit the National Museum of Rural Life

The group of young carers visit the National Museum of Rural Life.

Here’s what they had to say about their visit:

“I had never heard of the Lowland Clearances before but now I have an idea what happened and why it was so bad.”

“The staff were very knowledgeable and told us all about the Clearances.”

“I found out that some people moved to America and Canada.”

Now they are about to embark on an epic journey through remote rural landscapes in Southern Scotland, walking, camping and living in these environments.

The group will travel down to Wiston Lodge in Galloway Forest Park and finish their preparations for the expedition. The following day they will travel on to Loch Trool, where they will track the shores, taking in sites of historical interest as they go, before camping on Saturday night and Sunday night. Weather permitting, the group will summit Benyellary where the entire area will be visible and the extent of the enclosures will be apparent.

The project takes a unique and dynamic approach to engaging young people in experiencing heritage ‘up close and personal’ encouraging them to live, breathe and experience the environment first-hand, learning new personal and technical skills ranging from map reading and personal care in the wilderness to action planning and  decision making.

Venture Trust is a charity that supports young people and those from chaotic and disadvantaged backgrounds, and helps them to make a successful transition to adulthood. Many of those we work with have been in care, are homeless, or are dealing with issues such as abuse or addiction. Our programmes give these young people the opportunity to develop new skills and capabilities - by taking them out into the Scottish Highlands away from the influences, stresses and behaviours of their usual environment. The activities they take part in inspire, encourage and support participants to re-evaluate their lives, develop new skills, and return home armed with increased self awareness, self confidence and the life-skills to make their ambitions reality. Long-term community support helps participants to apply their new skills to make and sustain real changes in their lives.

Heritage Lottery Fund

A guest post by Tom Carroll, Fathers’ Worker, Lone Parent Scotland, with introduction by Conor Hull, Community Engagement Officer

During autumn the Learning and Programmes team brought the Ice Age to family learning groups around Edinburgh. We have visited six groups so far, including the Circle Haven group at Craigroyston Primary, a group of childminders in Sighthill and a family craft group at the Goodtrees Centre in Gilmerton. We told Ice Age tales about Mungo the mammoth and his friends, gave children the chance to touch real fossil teeth and replica sabre tooth skulls, before creating their own cave paintings.

One highlight was our Poo Detectives activity. Looking through mammoth dung is an important way that scientists can find out about their diet and habitat. Anything scatological is universally popular with children so we designed an activity around this important science. Poo Detectives and other Ice Age activities will be running at National Museum of Scotland to accompany our new exhibition Mammoths of the Ice Age, which runs from 24 January – 20 April 2014.

A workshop was set up to teach a group of children, aged between two and 10 years old, all about mammoths and mastodon. The children had some ideas about these animals, mainly through watching the Ice Age movies.

To start the session, a visual representation of time was created. Some children stood up in front of the class and held a long piece of string and attached pictures representing humans, dinosaurs and mammoths. The space in between the pictures represented time. The children were amazed to learn that the mammoths lived millions of years after dinosaurs.

From here the children were shown bits of a mammoth and had to guess which part it was. There were a lot of guesses and with a little help from his dad one child got one of them right. The larger of the two parts proved to be a bit more difficult for all parties, but finally we were told it was a mammoth’s tooth. All were amazed at how big it was!

Everyone was amazed at the size of the mammoth tooth

Everyone was amazed at the size of the mammoth tooth.

The group were also shown skulls of a cave bear and sabre tooth cat.

Then, everyone prepared themselves for the next session. Some of the children had heard about what was coming and could not wait to get started.

The items were all laid out: straw, different types of flower seeds, bits of stockings, lemon juice and tomato ketchup. A talk was given by Conor around what mammoths ate, after which the children were given a piece of paper with certain ingredients listed on it, and all the ingredients were placed around the room. With help from their fathers the children had to find and put the ingredients into the piece of stocking they were given, add some water and squeeze and mix all the ingredients up. After draining the water the stockings were cut open to reveal the mess that popped out, much to the delight, laughter and squeals of “it’s disgusting” from the children.

Who made this mess?

Who made this mess? Everyone enjoyed making mammoth poo.

After swapping the trays around, having a good look and sniffing the ingredients, guesses were made of which type of elephant or mammoth had made the mess.

After a short break it was back into the room, aprons on, to do some cave paintings onto cloth bags. The children had the use of some stencils, which included prehistoric animals and cavemen. Both children and fathers had fun stenciling away.

Making cave paintings

Making cave paintings.

A short walk around the museum whilst the bags dried out, then once all the tidying up had been done it was time to head home.

All the children had a great time learning about mammoths, handling the skulls of the cave bear and the sabre tooth cat, and even more fun making the poo: “Next time can I make brown poo?”  said one child. The fathers enjoyed the session as well; they know their children like dinosaurs so the chance to take part in such a workshop was a joy to all. All look forward to returning in the New Year to see the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition and hopefully the children will remember to bring their painted bags along.

Cave bear skull

Cave bear skull.

On behalf of all the children and fathers, a big thank you to all who helped make this an enjoyable session.

Karyn McGheeBy Karyn McGhee, Partnerships and Access Intern

As part of Kids in Museums Takeover Day on 28 November, the National Museum of Scotland was taken over by around one hundred young people to celebrate the launch of the Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place animated films.  Young people from various secondary schools and youth organisations around Edinburgh performed a science show in the Grand Gallery, replaced the reference books in the Info Zone and surprised visitors with a flash mob! You can read more about the day and the animated films in volunteer Sam Fairbairn’s blog post.

The final activity of the day was a song writing workshop with the band Miniature Dinosaurs, who became involved in the project through Live Music Now Scotland. In the space of four hours, the band and nine participants created a song from scratch based on our Science and Technology collections and performed it live in the Grand Gallery, a great achievement!

The first task saw the participants explore the galleries in search of inspiration for a chorus line. Many suggestions were given but the group decided on: ‘designed to land in the desert instead of the ocean’, from the interpretation of the Gemini Space Capsule in the Connect gallery.

Brainstorming lyric ideas in the song writing workshop

Brainstorming lyric ideas in the song writing workshop.

The next task brought some healthy competition into the song writing process, a game Miniature Dinosaurs like to call ‘Line of Best Fit’. The participants were separated into two teams, which then had to race against the clock (or crowing cuckoo) to come up with the next line of the song. The band were then responsible for picking their favourite line from the two teams. This process was then repeated until two verses and a chorus were created.

Song writing workshop

Working on the song, which was inspired by the Gemini Space Capsule in the Connect gallery.

The final song lyrics looked like this:

Verse 1

We’re back now on solid ground,
Faster than the speed of sound,
Asteroids burning through the sky,
Shoots for ‘X’ and reaches for ‘Y’,


We will land in the desert
Instead of the ocean, (x2)
Crash land! Crash land!
Without a commotion

Verse 2

Gone our lights when sails went down,
Drift apart, we’re lost and found,
Space is empty but we feel so much,
A weightless feeling, a heavy touch.
All that was left to create was the music…

The afternoon brought an inspirational private performance from Miniature Dinosaurs accompanied by cheers and whoops from the participants. The participants were given a selection of drum rhythms, bass lines, guitar chords and melodies which they discussed as a group before selecting. Gradually the song was coming together, spirits were high and rehearsals began.

Working on the song

Miniature Dinosaurs perform for the workshop.

The final task was to perform the song in the Grand Gallery. All participants performed with Miniature Dinosaurs; singing, playing small percussion instruments and some even learned the song on their own guitars. It was a great performance by a brilliant band and excellent participants of a fantastic song. Well done everybody!

The final performance

Performing the finished song in the Grand Gallery.

The final performance

The group perform the finished song.

Here’s what Alban Dickson of Miniature Dinosaurs had to say about the day:

It was a privilege to have been part of such a great day at the National Museum of Scotland. We were very excited by this project, and the prospect of taking inspiration from Scotland’s creative legacy in science and transforming it into the domain of the arts.

Being part of a project, especially when up against the clock, is always a cohesive process and it was brilliant to see such a broad range of participants come together throughout the song writing process we helped them with. Everybody brought their own expectations and musical influences to the table and together they came up with some amazing and unexpected ideas for the song. Working in situ at the museum was yet again an amazing experience for ourselves and demonstrates that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye within such a landmark building.

And this is what one of the participants, Steven Thornton, thought:

I really enjoyed taking part in the song writing workshop at the museum. A few days earlier I had looked at Miniature Dinosaurs on YouTube and was very impressed by their music. They are a great band! I knew we were going to have a wonderful time.

 I was a bit nervous when I arrived but I was soon put at my ease. Everybody was so friendly and excited about writing and performing a song. We looked around the museum for inspiration and had great fun creating the song together. I learned a lot about being a song writer. It certainly is not an easy job. When completed, we rehearsed over and over and then performed it in the museum concourse at the end of the day. This was the highlight of the workshop for me as I was on drums. It was a great success and we had enthusiastic applause from the large audience.

Thank you to Miniature Dinosaurs and the organizers for such a fantastic experience.

Jennifer ReidBy Jennifer Reid, Partnerships Officer

On 19 June I received a phone call from my manager asking whether I “would mind” going to Benbecula for two nights to celebrate the opening of an exhibition?  Would I mind?! Let’s just say it wasn’t a difficult decision.

A week later I joined two colleagues from Learning and Programmes, Christine and Fiona, to board a (tiny!) flight to the Outer Hebrides.  We were on our way to visit Museum nan Eilean, Sgoil Lionacleit, whose exhibition ‘A Reir na h-Aimsir’ was opening the following day.  The exhibition was produced as part of a two year partnership project called Scotland Creates – A Sense of PlaceA Reir na h-Aimsir was curated by young people from across the islands and includes objects from the collections of National Museums Scotland and Museum nan Eilean. It focuses on weather and the effect that changes in weather conditions can have on life on the islands.

Rain gauge.

Rain gauge in the exhibition.

I am ashamed to admit it, but prior to this trip I had never been to the Outer Hebrides before. This trip provided me the perfect opportunity to visit, as well as see the exhibition. Thankfully Fiona and Christine had both visited before, and knew their way around.

I was surprised the next day to pull up to a High School, but Fiona was quick to explain that the museum was in the High School! We had also arrived on the last day of term, and safe to say there was a feeling of” excitement” in the air – and not a great deal of work being done! We made our way through the crowds of school children, and into the exhibition space at the heart of the school building. And wow! What a wonderful job everyone at Museum nan Eilean had done. The team had been working with a group of 16-24-year-olds on the design, layout, text and photography for the exhibition, which has led to a creative and engaging exhibition. I particularly enjoyed the way they had incorporated stories, legends and sayings about the weather, and investigated whether or not any of these had any real basis in meteorology.

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh.

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition.

Jenn chats to staff at the Museum

Jennifer (centre) chats to staff at the Museum. In the background is a Harris Tweed suit designed by Vivienne Westwood, on loan from National Museums Scotland.

At the opening event we were treated to a talk by Dr Eddy Graham, a renowned meteorologist based in Lewis, and a dance performance by pupils from the lower school.  There was also an impressive supply of cake!

Weather inspired dance

Weather inspired dance performed by pupils from the lower school.

The group has also been working with musicians from the band Skerryvore through Live Music Now to compose a piece of music inspired by the changing weather, which will be incorporated into the exhibition.

I would definitely advise checking out the exhibition if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Outer Hebrides over the summer months, I am keeping my fingers crossed for another phone call…

You can find out more about one of the star objects in the exhibition, a green Harris Tweed suit designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood, in our object of the month feature, written by Scotland Creates volunteer Bethany Lane.

A guest post by Owen McGuire, Gallery 37 creative writer

Gallery 37 is Impact Arts‘ creative arts programme that celebrates young people and their achievements. Each year Gallery 37 runs during the summer holidays and culminates in a performance as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The performance, The Cup, took place in National Museum of Scotland on Friday 8 August 2013. Find out more here.

Welcome back to the Gallery 37 blog. This is the final post, covering the last week of our four week stint within the National Museum of Scotland.  This instalment has been written a few days after our showcase event as the final week was nonstop and could be described with words like: busy, hectic, full on, EMOTIONAL!

With our exhibition and performance day looming on Thursday 8 August there was an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality to proceedings as we strived to get as many of the unique ideas developed into real life pieces of art. With just two days to refine and mould the final ideas of the piece, the atmosphere became very professional.  Participants who three weeks previously arrived with no idea of the challenges ahead, worked hard to develop their skills and confidence, and in the final days transformed into busy artists contributing to a focused creative environment.

Members of the Gallery 37 collective

Members of the Gallery 37 collective in the Grand Gallery.

By the Wednesday the participants had viewed the showcase and exhibition space, which really helped them to understand how far they had come and how big the challenge of the next two days really was. Lists were made and targets were ticked off and as a unit we pushed together towards the finish line, with the animation group furiously editing material, the musicians recording their tracks, visual arts creating masses of ornate items and the performers desperately trying to get their routines and nerves under control.

Participants with the coconut cup in the Discoveries gallery

Participants with the coconut cup in the Discoveries gallery. The Cup was the theme of the exhibition and performance.

Finally Thursday arrived – Showtime! As a tutor, the performance day is my favourite. It’s what we work towards and it’s the big pay off. It’s the day in which you get to watch miracles happening. You witness participants perform at levels they never thought possible three weeks beforehand. The showcase event brings with it lots of successes and unique moments. Whether it be a progression like performing a solo act in front of an audience of 100 people, or a participant who has struggled with their confidence speaking openly to new people and audience members, it’s these moments that show the real difference the programme makes to the young people participating.

Most of all, what I like about the final day and the pressure it brings is the way in which it pulls you together as a group. For three weeks the young people have been very individual, into their own things, possibly not that aware of the whole team. However, when it comes down to the crunch before show time, they are all in the same position. They all feel nervous and they all worry. It’s this common bond that helps them develop as a unit. This is when you see the whole team forming and the Gallery 37 magic taking place.

The doors opened and our audience flooded in for an action-packed afternoon of exhibitions and performances. The event started with the audience being welcomed into a gallery setting. Within the gallery there were pieces of art displayed, animations on screens and laptops, music playing in secluded areas and performances happening all around. People were left to explore the young people’s work and the whole vibe of the exhibition was incredibly interactive. There were opportunities to pick work up, look through it, listen to it, feel, touch and yes, even in one performance which included a tea ceremony, taste it!

Artwork in the exhibition

Artwork in the exhibition.

Models created by the group

Animation models created by the group in the exhibition.

Watching an animation in the exhibition

Watching an animation in the exhibition.

Costumes created by the group

Costumes created by the group.

The time in the exhibition space passed in a blur of colour, song, music and movement. Audience members young and old were carried away in the wealth of work and opportunity to engage. Time seemed to pass in an instant and then the audience were transported into the main auditorium.

Entering the auditorium

The audience file into the auditorium, beside an art installation created by the group.

Upon entering this new space, the audience were each given an origami crane, a unique memento of their experience. They then settled down to the show, which kicked off with a debuting stage magician – The Marvellous Adam. This was then followed by an animation that showcased and featured work from all of the young animators, before the show moved on to a more extravagant note with the musicians and performance groups taking turns to perform pieces of work that took the audience through a range of energies and emotions.  We were able to show a huge amount of work this year, testament to the ability that our young people have developed over the four weeks. The setting of the Museum was a great finale space and one which has helped throughout the process as it has so much inspiration around every corner.

Singing performance

Singing performance.

Singing performance

Singing performance.

Before we knew it the day was over, and the audience went off, inspired by the energy and creative spirit. Each and every young person was absolutely full of adrenalin and smiling from ear to ear. Many of our young people will go on to try new things in life, be it at school, college or work, and indeed some may come back next year. But I am confident that when they look back on the summer of 2013 and the four weeks they spent with Impact Arts inside the National Museum of Scotland, they will have feelings of pride and happiness at the new people they met and the new skills they discovered within themselves.

Another massively successful Gallery 37. We look forward to next year’s group and a whole new creative experience.

Members of the group in the Grand Gallery

Members of the group in the Grand Gallery.

A guest post by Owen McGuire, Gallery 37 creative writer

Gallery 37 is Impact Arts‘ creative arts programme that celebrates young people and their achievements. Each year Gallery 37 runs during the summer holidays and culminates in a performance as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The performance, The Cup, takes place in the Event Space, Learning Centre, Level 2, National Museum of Scotland on Friday 8 August at 2pm. Find out more here.

Week 1: Creating superheroes

In a museum far far away, an elite group of young people have joined forces to come together to fight the good fight and wage war against the evil that is summer boredom. Using the National Museum of Scotland as their lair, our heroes have set about learning new skills and honing their craft in the likes of Animation, Performance, Music and Visual Arts.

The Animation programme aims to take the young people participating from a minimal skill set (like when Peter Parker used to take the bus) to the level where they are able to display work in public (like a web slinging genius), in the form of a final showcase performance as part of the Fringe, with the hope that the growth shown in a creative context can be a catalyst for positive change in their wider lives.

In pairs, the participants loaded up their utility belts with pens, pencils and plasticine and took on the task of using the museum and its exhibits as a stimulus in order to create their own fictionalised civilisations and worlds that would eventually lead to them developing superheroes to protect their unique landscapes. The first step involved scouring the Museum in order to complete a scavenger hunt challenge. Each pair were tasked with finding examples and taking pictures of:

  • An animal that represented their culture
  • The weapons they would use
  • Their food sources and cooking equipment
  • Forms of communication
  • Transport systems
  • Living quarters.

They were able to take inspiration from any space in the museum, meaning we had ideas that were influenced by weird and wonderful combinations, resulting in civilisations that had influences from Ancient Egypt and Outer Space, the Oceans and Historical Scotland and beyond. One of our animators, Adam, felt that the Egyptian exhibition was “extravagant and awe inspiring,” also commenting that the area was “amazing and allowed me to channel my thoughts.”

A frightful inspiration from the Museum.

A frightful inspiration from the Museum.

With inspirations in hand, our group set about customising and combining the images they had captured by drawing them out in their own style. Just as Superman needs Metropolis and Batman needs Gotham, our heroes needed a land to watch over, and so our boy and girl wonders set about creating them. This personal ownership of these new ‘realms’ allowed the animators to really let themselves go and develop a flurry of back stories and character traits for their chosen populations.

Our budding animators displaying their new worlds

Our budding animators displaying their new worlds.

After our worlds were in place it became time to build the heroes who would ensure their safety from now until eternity, with the make up of the new civilisations playing a major part in shaping the way in which our heroes were built. Whether they be animal-based or human, alive or dead, all of our heroes are developing well and will one day soon be ready to help a world near you!

Presenting the products of their imagination to the group

Presenting the products of their imagination to the group.

Week 2: It all starts with a cup

As I type, we have just came to the end of the second week of our time in the National Museum of Scotland and reached the half way stage in our project. Needless to say there is a mixture of excitement and nervous energy in the air, with some not sure if this is a glass half full or glass half empty situation, as they are getting more into the swing of things but become increasingly aware it can’t last forever.

Being half way through it was time to introduce our stimulus to the group. This year we are working from the stimulus of ‘The Cup’. This caused a bit of a fizz within the group when we tried to float the idea. Initially people seemed confused as to how they could develop the idea, but gradually drip by drip the idea really seemed to seep into their creative pores.

Brainstorming ideas

Brainstorming ideas.

Creative session to come up with ideas

Creative session to come up with ideas.

The whole point of choosing such an open ended stimulus is simple: we hoped to allow each participant to start with the most basic of items and look at it from a different angle in order to allow their creativity to pour out. Being in the setting of the Museum was also a big influence as every civilisation documented here has some sort of drinking device that they have put their own style on.

We developed the idea through a series of brainstorming exercises that were designed to show that the cup was only a starting point and that the idea could develop to any place their imagination could take them. We encouraged them to make links between topics. For example, developing an idea with a cup can spill over into being an idea about water or hydration, which could lead to a story about someone needing to find water to survive and dreaming of a cup… and so on. We further emphasised this point by playing a game of six degrees of separation. In groups, the participants started with the word ‘cup’ and were challenged to make connections to a variety of random objects. Here are some of the examples they were given. Why not have a go?

Cup ___ ____ ____ ____ Robot

Cup ___ ____ ____ ____ Horse

Cup ___ ____ ____ ____ Sellotape

Playing six degrees of separation

Playing six degrees of separation.

The ways in which they got there varied from group to group, from person to person. Strangely enough though, most people mentioned burgers along the way in the section that mentioned horse…

Week 3: The home straight

With the finish line in sight our participants are really kicking on a gear and getting well and truly into their stride as we approach 8 August and our big Exhibit and Performance. As the final week only really has two working days before we show our work, week three is a key stage for us and a final chance to create any solid, gold medal level ideas.

Another key feature of this leg in the process is that we begin to take our work out into the public arena for the first time and receive immediate feed back on pieces that have so far been restricted to the safe environment of the Museum’s learning centre and studios. This was the case for all of our groups the final day of week three. Although many get nervous performing, or even working in front of big crowds, it is important to face these hurdles before they build up to become too much and manifest themselves into challenges more akin to the high jump.

The day started with a joint group of musicians and performers taking to the Royal Mile on the opening day of the Fringe to take over one of the city’s many daily busking slots. Three weeks ago, performing for half an hour would have felt like an uphill challenge to say the least. The musicians kicked things off performing three songs, one an a cappella mash up cover and two original compositions, before neatly passing the baton onto the performance group, who performed a mixture of contemporary and hip hop dance accompanied by some physical theatre and circus skills, all of which was well received by the passers by who took time out of their days to stay and support the young people.

Busking on the Mound during Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Busking on the Mound during Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Dance performance on the Royal Mile

Dance performance on the Royal Mile.

Meanwhile, away from the hustle bustle of the heart of the Fringe, a combination of visual artists and animators set about conquering a challenge that seemed intimidating to even the tutors taking part. They were tasked with installing a piece of artwork that would last for the duration of the Fringe on Princes Street. Eventually settling on the subject of ‘changing worlds’, our young people used umbrellas for symbolism and filled the space with words that helped to express their fears for the changing worlds they find themselves in, whether on a smaller or global scale.

Working on the 'changing worlds' artwork

Working on the ‘changing worlds’ artwork.

As we head into the fourth week we are on track and pacing ourselves well to finish comfortably and hopefully we won’t find that we need to swoop for the finish line. Stay tuned to the blog for the results and please come along to our performance on 8 August between 2 and 4pm in the National Museum of Scotland!

Gillian McNeeBy Gillian McNee, Learning Enabler

Every Wednesday morning at 10am a roll of thunder can be heard at the entrance of the National Museum of Scotland… or so you would think.  It’s actually 15 buggies, mums, dads, toddlers in a hurry, descending on the Museum for a morning on the magic carpet. The new under 5s programme has become so popular we now call the rush to sign up for spaces the “great buggy dash!”

After the transformation of the National Museum of Scotland, with the addition of the Imagine and Adventure Planet interactive galleries, designed specifically for younger visitors, there was an opportunity to develop new activities that would extend the ethos of popular galleries into our public programmes. The aim was to create an engaging experience for little ones where they could explore the Museum further, and the idea of a magic carpet came alive.

Captain Fiona Campbell tells a story

Captain Fiona Campbell tells a story.

The Magic Carpet sessions introduce little ones to different things in the Museum. Each week the carpet and its little explorers visit somewhere new, with stories, singing, crafts and object handling. Our trips on the carpet include visiting the stars in the Earth in Space gallery to see all the animal constellations, exploring the jungle of the Animal World gallery where we’ve boogied with the animals, and going fishing in the Arctic winter in the Living Lands gallery.

The magic carpet in the Living Lands gallery

The magic carpet in the Living Lands gallery.

The carpet has had special guest appearances too, including professional storyteller Mara Menzies. Mara runs her own company, Toto Tales, which brings African stories to life, and she took our magic carpet on an adventure through Africa, with Koko the crocodile. Another special guest was Cuddles the pygmy hedgehog, who was brought along by Visitor Services Assistant Laura Moss for a springtime special all about woodland animals, where the children explored the history of the forests in the Beginnings gallery.

Enabler Anna Downie adds some sparkle at a craft session

Enabler Anna Downie adds some sparkle at a craft session on the magic carpet.

The magic carpet sometimes gets out and about, away from its home at Chambers Street. It recently flew to East Kilbride to the National Museum of Rural Life for some storytelling at the Classic Car show. For training, it visited Sanderson’s Wynd Primary in Tranent, where the P2 class went on a journey from Scotland through Europe, stopping off and handling objects from each country along the way, with the final destination being Spain, the class’s topic. They then performed a Flamenco dance inspired by their adventure on the carpet.

It is also being used as inspiration for a community engagement project led by Community Engagement Officer Jane Miller. Three family learning groups, Gracemount, Broomhouse, and the Royal Mile, have all taken part in magic carpet sessions in the museum. They are now each creating a fabric square with their favourite object from the Museum on it, which will then be put together to make their own magic carpet. The nursery children and their parents have been working jointly on this project, enhancing learning together. The finished carpet will be complete with objects and a user book, full of songs and activities that can be used with the carpet. Groups will be able to borrow the carpet and resources for their own use. The adults and children have been really enjoying the process of making their own magic carpet. One mum says the only challenge has been that her wee boy was inspired by so many objects in the museum that she had to limit what he could have on his square, as it had to match with what she could actually sew!

Making a magic carpet with the family learning groups

Making a magic carpet with the family learning groups.

September will see the launch of Magic Carpet Minis. So far the Magic Carpet sessions have been piloted for little ones under the age of 5.  After the summer, two different sessions will be run – one geared towards 2-5 year olds and one for 0-2 year olds. This means the activities will be more tailored for each age group and parents/guardians can decide which one they and their children will get the most from. So keep an eye out for new adventures on the magic carpet!

Up up up as we go flying on the magic carpet

Up up up as we go flying on the magic carpet!

For more information on family activities in the Museum visit

A guest post by Regan Koazubikk, P6, Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife

Regan’s class is part of The Robertson Trust funded project which is working with schools to develop boxes of museum objects available for free borrowing. Regan tells the story of preparing for a day event showing the work her class has done over the past year with the Museum. The partner school is Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife, and the event took place on 2nd Feb 2012. You can find out more by reading this previous post by Community Engagement Officer Conor Hull or on the Community Engagement section on the National Museums Scotland’s website.

Before Thursday we had to plan our exhibition.  We had to decide on where our objects and material went. Then on the laptops we made some labels and a title. Eventually area 10 (another class) came to see us practise our exhibition for Thursday – they really enjoyed it!

Choosing objects for our African exhibition

P6 choosing objects for the African exhibition at Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife.

Next it was the day! I was so nervous I was shaky. Then we began to walk to the drama studio. Then we suddenly walked in and as we walked in there was Conor, a photographer and a professional cameraman and we had to prepare our exhibition. Soon after break an African man called Chief Chebe was teaching us to play drums, African drums, and some of our parents came. Then we got taught a seed game. I was in a group with Samantha and Melissa.  Then area 13 (another class) came in.  It was very nerve-wracking because they are a bigger class.

Chief Chebe and our class

Chief Chebe and P6 at Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife.

Soon it was show time! To show our parents what we had been up to with the Museum project we then had to move our exhibition to the hall.  Meanwhile our parents came in.  I was so nervous and a little bit scared stuff might go wrong!

Playing to an audience in the school hall

P6 playing African drums to an audience at Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife.

My parents were very proud of me.  Then we had to play our drums in front of everyone in the school even parents! I was very jumpy, then we finished and everyone cheered and clapped. At the end my parents said I was outstanding. I was very proud of me and my class.  However we had to say our goodbyes. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Chief Chebe. I loved every second of it and it was a GREAT experience.

P6 practising the African drums at Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife

P6 practising the African drums at Methilhill Primary and Community School, Fife.

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