The installation of our new Sound and Vision galleries will be one of the most ambitious changes the National Science and Media Museum has seen to date. Replacing our current Experience TV and Animation galleries and opening by the end of 2024, Sound and Vision will offer a fresh take on our collections with a modern perspective, providing a more engaging and accessible experience for all visitors.
It is our aspiration and priority that the people of Bradford are at the heart of decision-making and shaping of Sound and Vision. To make this happen, we are consulting with local communities on many aspects of the project as it progresses. In June 2022, we hosted our first community consultation session where we welcomed over 40 individuals representing 23 different organisations, charities, services and schools in the Bradford district. Staff from the Learning and Interpretation teams shared our ambitions for Sound and Vision, and attendees shared their perspectives on visitor experience, content in the galleries and much more.
The first two sessions, which took place on the 9 and 15 June 2022, included an introduction to Sound and Vision in Makespace, a tour of the museum, a group discussion and even a collections-based gameshow in our Wonderlab studio. What truly brought the consultation process to life was the enthusiasm of the participants, who gave up their time to think up ideas and interrogate the successes and shortfalls of the museum.
With Bradford crowned the next City of Culture just a few days earlier, the room was filled with a shared enthusiasm and buzz of anticipation for the positive changes about to come our way. So many people we spoke to had been to the museum in the past and were excited to contribute their wonderful experiences and valuable insights, all of them eager to help shape the museum’s future.
As the attendees provided feedback on how they interact with our objects, stories, and spaces, they reflected on what makes them feel welcome at the museum, how the museum can improve its offer, and any barriers their communities might face to visiting. After reviewing and discussing every comment, note, and suggestion brought to us during the consultation events, we have identified three recurring themes: representation, accessibility, and interactivity.
Many people pointed out the lack of meaningful representation of minoritised communities and ethnicities in the stories we tell. Some of the existing references to South Asian communities feature outdated information on lifestyles, dialects or culture. The missed opportunity to tell stories that reflect the importance of film and photography to the Windrush community was also raised. As a national museum located in the heart of Bradford, updating our permanent galleries to celebrate its rich multicultural history is one of the key priorities of Sound and Vision, and we are now further stressing the need for representation and inclusion in the development of these galleries.
The consultations also helped us identify gaps in accessibility; which includes access requirements, differentiation for all age groups and abilities, and the reasons someone might never have visited the museum at all. We are already working towards accommodating sensory needs and introducing extended language support, including British Sign Language interpretation, and this advice helps us determine that we are moving in the right direction.
A significant amount of feedback mentioned making learning more interactive at the museum, including innovative new ideas and pleas to bring back old favourites. Introducing spaces to create one’s own content—sounds, images, or special effects—would inspire repeat visits and strengthen the link our visitors have with the collections by creating lasting memories. Numerous comments called for catering to adult audiences by using the museum as a venue for hosting external events and workshops, creating opportunities for local artists, such as bringing back Lates, which we are thrilled to announce is back on 18 October.
These community consultations proved a resounding success. Powered by the enthusiasm and brilliant ideas of all of those who attended, they provided us with a wealth of invaluable feedback and fresh perspectives. Their findings are now directly impacting the approaches to interpretation and all future decisions about the new galleries.
We are currently embarking on the next stage of consultation, where the designers of our new gallery spaces will join the conversation, as we continue to interrogate our content and build a network of local community groups to share our vision for this project. We hope to provide another update soon.