Digital Women’s Archive North (DWAN) is an arts and heritage organisation that is devoted to the celebration of marginalised women’s artistic practice and cultural heritage through archival practice and research via digital intervention. I was drawn to the placement opportunity here as I have always been troubled by the marginalisation of certain groups in cultural institutions. More specifically, I am very interested in finding ways to tackle this problem; the motivation at the very core of DWAN’s mission.
Whilst DWAN is primarily interested in the visibility of marginalised women, my experience in my role as project assistant demonstrated that interventions driven by feminist ideology can be used in a way to unearth other hidden histories and heritage, outside the sphere of the female.
My main duty as project assistant was to undertake archival research in relation to the Levenshulme Baths, which closed down in 2016 following significant government cuts. In conjunction with two other organisations who share a desire to save spaces based on their social and cultural value, DWAN will hopefully be occupying the disused building and developing a gallery space. The purpose of my research was to develop a report and repository that will be used by DWAN to inform their engagement with the community of Levenshulme when developing this space.
Whilst my research led me to uncover many unknown patrons of the Levenshulme Baths, perhaps one of the more interesting discoveries was the use of the baths by a nudist gay men’s group called Naked Swim. Prior to the baths closure, the groups use of the facilities were sometimes met with outrage by other pool users, with some parents refusing to let their children use the pool due to concerns over hygiene.
Despite this initial trepidation from members of the community, the subsequent campaign to save the Levenshulme baths from closure identified the existence of the group as evidence for the importance of the facilities and an example of why it should remain in open. The campaign group was made up of a wide range of people from the community, including parents, some of which may have been those who were initially uncomfortable with Naked Swim’s usage of the pool. This particular story demonstrated to me how smaller groups within a larger community can overcome difference and pull together when something much larger is at stake; in this case the closure of facilities that were used by most of the Levenshulme community.
Overall, learning more about the more recent history of the baths closure has been incredibly beneficial in helping me better understand the importance of the role of arts and heritage organisations such as DWAN. They function to serve underrepresented communities and shine a light on their heritage and value.
Madeleine Peden is an MA student in Arts Management, Policy and Practice.