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Curating for Change: £1m programme to put disabled curators into museums

Accentuate’s History of Place exhibition at Museum of Liverpool worked with disabled people to re-interpret their history

Curating for Change, a ground-breaking work placement programme for D/deaf and disabled curators in museums, has partnered with 27 cultural organisations across England to redress the balance of under-represented disabled curators and staff in museums.

Screen South – a cultural development organisation with digital creativity at its heart – has received a £1m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to launch the project, which it says will be transformational for the museum sector.

Through its pioneering Accentuate Programme – creating life-changing opportunities for disabled people in the cultural sector – the Curating for Change programme will provide a landmark Fellowship and Traineeship programme which includes fully funded paid work placements with mentoring and training opportunities for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people wanting to pursue a career in museums.

Addressing gap in access and employment

In doing so, Curating for Change will start to address the significant gap in access and employment across the heritage sector, which Accentuate says has been largely ignored.

One of the aims of creating these opportunities is that the rich and diverse history of D/deaf and disabled people – rarely exhibited in museums, with few objects in collections reflecting the history of disabled people – can also be better represented.

It will build on Accentuate’s previous project: a History of Place (2016-2019), a nationally significant social history programme which for the first time charted disabled lives from the middle-ages until the late 20th century and held exhibitions at MShed in Bristol, the Museum of Liverpool and the V&A in London.

“We are so excited that with thanks to National Lottery players’ support, we can at last tackle the huge problem of the under-representation of D/deaf and disabled people in our museums – both as staff, and in the collections and the stories that are told,” said Esther Fox Head of Accentuate Programme.

Improve equality and representation

“We are privileged to be working with a whole range of wonderful museums to bring about this change. From small community museums such as Hastings Museum and Art Gallery to large Nationals including the Museum of Liverpool and the National Railway Museum York, part of the Science Museum group. There is a commitment from right across the sector to improve equity and representation and Curating for Change will deliver the activities that will make this change a reality.”

Out of the 27 partner cultural organisations, Fellows and Trainees will be hosted by 20 museums from across England and each Fellow will have space to research and curate a range of new exhibitions and events for an estimated 240,000 visitors across nine locations.

According to Accentuate, this is the first time that such a significant range and calibre of museums have come together to create a network of activities that will begin to tackle the under-representation of disabled people in our museums.

The problem:

  • Currently there are 14.1m disabled people living in the UK and 19% of working age adults are disabled (Family Resources Survey, 2018-19).
  • Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people (ONS Labour Force Survey, April to June 2020).
  • The inequalities are further accentuated within the museum sector workforce, with only 4% defining as D/deaf or disabled.

The Curating for Change solution:

  • By placing D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people in curatorial roles, there is a better chance of telling authentic narratives that relate to disability history.
  • The barriers to how disabled people experience museums can be lessened.
  • Consideration can be given to how D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people will navigate and/or experience exhibitions.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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