As part of my MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies I chose undertake the 30-credit placement unit as part of my course. What interested me about choosing the placement was the chance to work in well-established museums and cultural institutions in and around Manchester to see first hand what working in and around these institutions entailed. What attracted me to choose my placement at Manchester Museum to work on the Happy Museum Project as a Rulebook Recorder and Evaluator was the chance to work on an upcoming project that had never been piloted before. It explored the introduction of play in the museum and how, through compiling a play and rulebook, that this ethic, that it is okay to play, could be effectively conveyed to the museum’s visitors.
My work on the Happy Museum Project mostly focused on evaluation techniques and how the results of these could be interpreted. For example, I devised and implemented the idea of ‘Play Tracker Buckets’, in which children would drop a counter into a bucket that had either a happy, sad or a so-so face depending on their feelings at the time before and after their visit. What interested me about working on this task was to find out what had caused the change in results. For example, an increase in the results of the happy bucket would suggest that children perceived themselves as happier because of their visit, or because of a service they received from of the Visitor Team. Alternatively, a decrease of counters placed in the happy bucket could mean that children were disappointed by a service they received, perhaps they were sad to leave the museum or even being told off by their parents! While implementing this new method of evaluation I found it effective at times to place the buckets on the front desk so that visitors were able to, on their own free will, place a counter into whichever bucket they felt like. The results from this evaluation would prove to be very useful as the fluctuation in the results could be analysed within the framework of the Happy Museum Project’s Measure what Matters methods document and be used as part of further study.
A secondary evaluation technique was the ‘Play Tracker Graph’, in which children would be able to glue a happy, so-so or sad face on the timescale graph on where they felt they fit on best (left being the sad side and right being the happy side.) This technique was interesting to watch because when faced with the decision of what face to choose to stick on and where, children were very introspective and this, as an evaluator, was very interesting to watch how children perceived themselves to be. Children were more engaged with this activity because of its interactive element and the results from this evaluation technique were also recorded and analysed to be used as part of further study in the future.
Lastly, as part of my work on the Happy Museum Project I undertook observations in and around the different galleries in the museum to spot any instances of child-led play. As I had never undertaken observations before I was unsure of exactly what to look out for, but I familiarised myself with the works of Elee Kirk, a Museum practitioner and educator whose works focuses on children’s experiences in museums. In the process of learning about children and play in and around museums, this task opened my eyes to how museums can be perceived by children and they can make their galleries and exhibitions more appealing and engaging with their visitors. It was interesting to watch firsthand how children interacted and engaged with the museum’s galleries and exhibits and how ‘play’ could be implemented in the museum.
I enjoyed my time working on the Happy Museum Play and Rulebook because it allowed me to work in the unchartered territories of integrating play into museums and it also allowed me to become a part of a growing venture in a small select group of museums. This experience will help me in the future to understand and implement play within museum, the ways in which cultural institutions can become more sustainable and lastly, how museums can be a source of wellbeing in community.