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9 Nov 2018

Award success for Birmingham Museums’ Collecting Birmingham project

A three-year project that empowered the people of Birmingham to take an active role in developing the collection at Birmingham Museums Trust has been recognised with an award from the Museums Association.

Collecting Birmingham was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and engaged with residents from inner city Birmingham, giving them a central role in deciding which new objects Birmingham Museums should collect to better reflect the city’s diversity and heritage.

The Birmingham team were presented with the award for the Best Museums Change Lives Project at a ceremony at Ulster Museum in Belfast on Thursday 8th November.

Collecting Birmingham saw Birmingham Museums engage with over 3,500 people in the four city wards of Soho, Aston, Nechells and Ladywood, which included diverse communities in terms of age, sexual orientation, socio-economic, faith and ethnic backgrounds.

Over 1,800 objects were acquired through consultations with local people including The Rivers of Birminam, a series of 100 black and white photographs by Vanley Burke chronicling 40 years of Caribbean heritage in Birmingham. The photographs are by far the largest and most significant collection of work by the celebrated photographer in any public collection and were displayed at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery earlier this year.

Vanley Burke said of the acquisition: “I feel like the photos belong to the people of Birmingham as so many people feel connected to the stories and experiences documented in them. I’m very pleased they will be part of the city’s collection.”

Other objects acquired through the project include a booth from one of Birmingham’s oldest curry houses, a Pride banner and t-shirt from Unmuted, a peer support network in Birmingham for people of colour who identify as LGBTQI, and two significant Islamic artefacts – an Ottoman Qibla indicator, and an accurate 19th century French replica of a 14th century Egyptian glass lamp.

The initiative enabled Birmingham Museums to forge new relationships including links with the city’s Somalian Muslim community. Through this new connection the Trust became the first UK museum to purchase of a Xeedho, the ceremonial vessel a Somalian bride receives and unwraps as part of her wedding rites.

Four Collecting Birmingham exhibitions were created to showcase some of the acquisitions, including displays at Soho House and Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. The Xeedho remains on display at the current Collecting Birmingham display Who is Birmingham? at Birmingham Museum Art Gallery.

Dr Ellen McAdam, Director of Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “Collecting Birmingham will have a long-lasting impact on the Trust and the city’s collection, and we are thrilled it has been recognised by the Museums Association at the Museums Change Lives Awards.

“Collecting Birmingham has enabled us to forge new relationships and strengthen existing partnerships to ensure the collection better reflects the diverse people of the city and tell their stories of growing up, living and working here in Birmingham. It’s been a transformative project for us and leaves a great legacy to build on as we plan for the future of Birmingham Museums Trust.”

Sharon Heal, Director of the Museums Association, said: “These awards are all about celebrating the amazing community engagement that museums are doing across the UK, and the Collecting Birmingham project is an outstanding example of this. The Collecting Birmingham team worked hard to win the trust of local communities and to really look afresh at how a collection can tell the story of a city. The result is a collection and a series of exhibitions and events that are a fascinating reflection of the diversity and culture of the city.

“Birmingham Museums Trust have shown why museums are so important to the people of the city, and we know that museums across the country will be inspired by the Collecting Birmingham project.”