Curious Encounters, a highly engaging ‘pop-up interactive exhibition’, took place at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery on 26 February 2015, involving researchers from four schools across the faculties of Performance, Visual Arts & Communication and Arts and attracting positive feedback from visitors from within and outside the university.
The event was part of a skills development project, funded by the LEAP Researcher Training Hub and coordinated by Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd and Dr Elaine Durham (School of Design) and Dr Laura Anderson (School of Music). The project aimed to enable early career researchers to develop skills in public engagement, and to support networking amongst researchers.
The project commenced in September 2014 with two afternoon workshops, featuring presentations from speakers such as Dr Iona McCleery from the School of History, who shared her experiences of co-ordinating the You Are What You Ate project. Workshop attendees were then invited to get involved in organising and delivering a pilot public engagement activity, in order to develop their skills further.
The group of seven researchers worked together to devise an activity which would embrace their diverse research interests and enable them to discuss their research with the general public on a one-to-one basis. Working in collaboration with Lotte Inch, the Marketing & Events Officer at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, they developed the concept for an event which would engage visitors in their research through interactive displays of intriguing objects which represented their research.
The exhibition received excellent feedback from visitors, with comments referring to ‘an array of fantastic and diverse subject areas’ and praising ‘the ability to speak to researchers during an exhibition and to discuss your own ideas.’ The feedback also captured the project’s impact, with many visitors suggesting that they intended to further explore some of the diverse topics highlighted in the exhibition – including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the traditional craft of smocking, and the School of Media & Communication’s Pararchive project.
Meanwhile, the researchers were aware of the many skills that they had developed through taking part in the project. Dr Laura Anderson highlighted ‘the opportunity to practice and improve the presentation of my research both to other researchers and the public more broadly’, while Dr Lee Broughton felt the project had ‘enhanced my team working skills and provided me with further skills relating to event design and management’. The researchers also benefited in other ways; Judith Simpson ‘found that conversations with the general public suggested new avenues for research’.
Lotte Inch commented: ‘For the Gallery, it has provided the opportunity to engage in a project outside of our normal circles of activity and with researchers from a variety of fields of interest. It has been great to introduce them to the Gallery and to create connections between subject areas, and to welcome, in turn, the many people who visited the Gallery in order to attend the event.
‘In the future, it would be wonderful to repeat this event with a new group of researchers and to consider making this public engagement project an annual event in our calendar. If there are any groups of researchers out there interested in talking about this, then please do get in touch. We are always open to ideas for collaboration!’