Undertaking an ICP Placement Module for my MA in Museum and Art Gallery Studies was one of the main reasons for taking the course in the first place, I wanted that practical experience that is near enough impossible to find in any non-academic setting (or so I’ve found anyway). For my placement I chose a position at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum working on their new temporary exhibition about co-operation and cycling, mainly because it was local to where I live and allowed me the opportunity to design an exhibition. Admittedly cycling isn’t my forte, and knowing nothing about the co-operative movement at first glance it didn’t perhaps seem like the most appropriate placement for me but I had high hopes for the opportunities that this recently redeveloped museum could offer.
Finding the museum initially did pose an issue in the labyrinth that is Rochdale, I found myself wandering aimlessly for a good hour trying to find the ‘correct’ part of Toad Lane, which coincidentally was severed by a dual carriageway, which I found myself on the wrong side of (of course). Nevertheless after locating the museum I was welcomed in by a friendly group of volunteers, workers and the Museum Manager Jenny. Upon discussing my placement I discovered that my roles would be diverse with opportunities to research at the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester as well as helping out at the museum itself in Rochdale. And now as I approach my last day on placement I can certainly say that this was the case.
For the first month on placement I worked at the Archives in Manchester, searching through transport texts, minute books, co-operative annuals and ‘Ourselves’ Magazines: a co-op publication that was written by members for members. Discovering the various adverts, maps, photos and personal accounts within these archival materials helped me to build a real history and understanding of the journey co-operative cycles had taken. This history became intrinsic to the next stage of my placement, which involved writing the text. Using the writing style Ekarv, a form of writing that permits only one topic per line creating short succinct information, I drafted text for the panels telling the history of the CWS production of cycles and their use from delivery bikes for the post office and local co-op shops, to cycles for leisure and competitions.
Whilst writing and researching for the exhibit I also helped to develop the interactives, which would appear throughout the displays along with the text panels. As we were targeting a young audience it was key to create some exciting interactive games that would promote the message of the exhibit all the while remaining within the budget. This more practical side to the placement saw me sourcing materials for board games and painting connect four pieces in the colours of the Tour de France jerseys. Another more practical element to the placement involved going to visit potential donors and sponsors who would be willing to feature within the exhibition and provide objects for display, visiting local worker co-ops in Manchester such as Bicycle Doctor, Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative and Coffee Cranks.
Working as part of this museum I felt I was given real opportunities to explore all the aspects of exhibition design, making a real impact in a way that admittedly initially I did not expect to. This is credit to my placement leader, the Museum Manager and also the nature of the museum itself, which is all about co-operation. Whether I was writing emails and researching interactives or drafting text panels and choosing images and objects for display, the opportunities were always there and I have certainly come away from this placement with a knowledge for exhibition design and understanding of how a small museum can work successfully and co-operatively, I might even know a little bit about bikes now too…