What we wanted to do
To create a series of multisensory interactive art works that respond to museum collections, to generate alternative ideas for museum interpretation, developed through art and electronics-based workshops by people with learning disabilities in collaboration with an interdisciplinary research team.
How we worked together
The Sensory Objects project brings together artists, engineers, experts in multimedia advocacy, museum workers and people with learning disabilities as co-researchers in the design of interactive multisensory objects that replicate or respond to objects of cultural significance. Through a series of staged multisensory art and electronics workshops, people with learning disabilities work as co-researchers in exploring how the different senses can be utilised to augment existing museum/heritage artifacts or create entirely new ones. The project has worked with the Tower Project exploring collections in The Enlightenment Gallery at The British Museum where we created Sensory Labels, with Reading College students from the LLD/D exploring the University of Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) where we created interactive farm animals, and with Mencap Liverpool Access to Heritage Forum at the National Trust’s Speke Hall where we made Sensory Story boxes. Each museum became the focus for developing unique sensory objects in response to our co-researchers perspectives of the collection.
The Sensory Objects Research Team
- Mencap Liverpool Access to Heritage Forum: Paul Lorde, Angela Green, Stephen Hogg, Elle Rice and Tracy Cleaver, Derek Connelly, Chris Griffiths and Terry Beech, Patrick Cowley. Support workers: June Jenkins, Geraldine Regan.
- Reading College students from the Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities (LLD/D) department: Sian Nicholas, Skye Cuthbert, Luke Brown, Rumena Begum, Rachel McGowan, Rachel Hallissey, Guillermo Hart. Reading College Lecturer: Qian Chen. Support workers: Li Hao, Matthew Ivey and Tasha Croshaw. Reading Mencap Coffee Club, including Miranda Fox and Support Worker Ali Carroll.
- The Tower Project, London: Sam Walker, Judith Appiah, Tim Elson, Adalana Ojo, Julie Ryan, Adjoa Weidemann, Ryan Burns, Michael Tapps, Katy Wollard, Justin Grimes, Ashley Mason, Kelly Woods. Support workers: Minos Papdimitriou, Ferhat Salman , Reshma Khan, Debbie Hudson.
- Kate Allen (Art Department), Nic Hollinworth and Faustina Hwang (School of Systems Engineering), University of Reading
- Andy Minnion (Director) and Gosia Kwiatkowska, Rix Research University of East London
- Ticky Lowe, Consultant, Artist and Coordinator of Mencap Liverpool Access to Heritage Forum and Director of Making Sense CIC
Heritage and Museum Partners
- Speke Hall, National Trust, Liverpool
- Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), University of Reading
- The British Museum, London
How we shared our work
We have an accessible webpage www.sensoryobjects.com, a how-its-done technical page https://extrasensoryobjects.wordpress.com, a wiki created by our co-researchers https://www.klikin.eu/page/view/cat/18533 and a twitter account @SensoryObjects
We have held three showcase events with an accompanying seminar at each museum. During 2014 our co-researchers and research team have presented workshops and papers at national and international conferences and events including Engage 2014 Bristol and the Diversity in Heritage Meeting London, Museums and Heritage Show Olympia and the Inclusive Museum Conference, Los Angeles USA
How the project was funded
Funded from 2012-2015 by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC, project reference AH/J004987/1).
Outcomes and evaluation
The project has been very successful in developing co-research with people with learning disabilities and workshop activities. Our participants have been highly-engaged in the activities, and the feedback has been very positive.
The project has developed workshop tools to make working with electronics and interactive technologies more accessible, which we have called “littleBits go LARGE” (see https://extrasensoryobjects.wordpress.com/littlebits-go-large/).
We have developed custom devices that can be used to enhance a museum visit with multisensory experiences, i.e. an easy to use “sound box” that can be carried around a visit and that plays sounds at an appropriate part of the collection (see https://extrasensoryobjects.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/extending-the-sound-box-further/).
The project has produced a series of webpages https://www.klikin.eu/page/view/cat/18533 created by co-researchers with learning disabilities, documenting their experiences.
We presented our Sensory Labels at The British Museum on 11th Feb 2015 this was so successful we were invited back as an event for the half term holidays with our co-researchers showing their Sensory Labels to hundreds of adults and children in the Enlightenment Gallery.
Sensory Objects project won the International Design for All Foundation Award Trophy 2014 for ‘littleBits go Large’, customising littleBits to make them more accessible and again in 2015 for our ‘Sensory Labels at The British Museum’. We were runners up in the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) Engage Competition 2014 award. We have also been invited to contribute ideas to the development of new interactive displays for the Museum of English Rural Life’s Heritage Lottery funded redevelopment.
We have developed and refined methods and approaches of including co-researchers with learning disabilities in the research and design process. This has included designing and simplifying workshop tools and activities in order to empower co-researchers to make choices, express their opinions, and actively participate in the design process. Our co-researchers from the Tower Project are sharing their workshop activities, creating Sensory Postcards, with others from their centre with PMLD (profound and multiple learning disabilities).
We have observed that consulting and working with an individual’s perspective of a museum collection also created a valuable experience for a wider user group. Apart from creating some fantastic artworks we have found our sensory objects provided opportunities for positive interaction for our co-researchers with museum workers and the public. Our co-researchers commented on how they felt they were treated with greater respect by the people when presenting their sensory objects, support workers noted how individuals displayed greater confidence interacting with the public and feedback from museum workers mentioned our interventions bringing a lively, engaged atmosphere for visitors and staff in the museum.
A book of sensory activities has been developed to encourage and support other museums and groups to explore sensory activities. We are currently working on a grant bid to create a sustainable scheme for people with learning disabilities to continue working within the museums and heritage sector.