Children turn Waltham Forest school into a museum
2 July 2019
Children at the George Mitchell School in Waltham Forest turned their art studio into a museum, after working with students from UCL on the ‘Creating Aspirations’ initiative, facilitated by UCL Culture Schools Engagement team
With thanks to Sara Rayment, a student on the MA Museums and Galleries in Education at the UCL Institute of Education for the words and Emma Bryant for the images.
On Tuesday 25th July 2018, two pupils from Year 5 cut the ribbon across the Art Studio at their primary school to declare the George Mitchell Museum of Objects (‘GMoO’ for short) officially open to the public. Brimming with pride, the children welcomed their expectant visitors into a museum they conceived and created. With tremendous confidence, they delighted in relating their experiences to their parents. They explained the reasons behind their interest in particular objects at the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and the processes they used to create a range of artefacts for GMoO. On display were papier-mâché eggs, a selection of painted replica clay shabtis and hieroglyphic tablets, four portraits of Flinders Petrie on canvas, a painted paper tapestry, more than thirty intaglio prints of Ancient Egyptian inspiration, stop motion films and photographs of their favourite specimens from the Grant Museum.
The pupils were very excited that Tuesday had arrived, and we were too. I speak as one of the three UCL students from the MA programme, Museums and Galleries in Education, who have collaborated on this ‘Creating Aspirations’ initiative, facilitated by UCL Culture Schools Engagement team. Katty Morgan has been involved since its inception and first identified and liaised with George Mitchell All Through School in Leyton; Maja Neske and I joined in the Autumn. We began with a creative workshop at the school: the nine year-olds were making papier-mâché eggs at one end of the room and clay shabtis and hieroglyphic tablets at the other. The enthusiasm from the children and their class teacher was infectious and we immediately found ourselves immersed in the project. As a secondary school teacher for eighteen years, it felt exhilarating to be back in the classroom – albeit very different classrooms in the shape of the Grant Museum, the Petrie Museum, UCL Art Museum and the Slade School of Fine Art! We even brought the pupils to our department of Art, Design and Museology on the 8th Floor of the IoE, which they found intriguing.
The participatory ethos of this project presented its greatest strength and its greatest challenge. As a teacher, I freely admit that we are a bossy breed: it was a challenge to enable the children to determine the direction of our group exploration. We had to frequently remind ourselves of what they voted for. True participatory practice takes time. We were negotiating between twenty-six different children, their class teacher, the school, UCL Culture staff who facilitated the project, and multiple museum professionals all with their own agendas. This felt like a diplomatic feat and was more time consuming than we had envisaged.
The ‘Creating Aspirations’ project, which became ‘a museum of museums’, has proved to be an apprenticeship in museum engagement in the workplace. We have enjoyed the relative autonomy of this pilot as well as the diversity of the experience. We are already planning the next one!
For further information about UCL Culture's museum-schools programmes and how they are collaborating with schools in east London, please visit the UCL Culture website.