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Public Engagement and Community participation

Public Engagement and Community participation

Since 2019, the project has implemented over 30 public engagement actions, workshops, talks, seminars nationally and internationally, in addition to learning activities inside and outside the Fitzwilliam Museum. Major public engagement outputs are expected as we approach the year of the exhibition (2023). A selection of our recent actions includes:

In 2021:

  • Engaging with diaspora communities The project team continues to host specialised tours and events catering for our dedicated community partners in Cambridge and beyond. A highlight of the past season was the visit of the NEPOMAK network (United Kingdom ( bringing together young Cypriots from across the UK to promote and celebrate Cypriot culture and heritage, which took place on 11 September 2021 at the Fitzwilliam. Dr Marios Psaras, the Cultural Councillor of the Cyprus High Commission, was accompanied by 30 members of the network. The visitors were offered a guided tour of the Antiquities Collections, which led to an inspiring discussion on ways to increase the participation of Greek and Cypriot diaspora communities through museum practice and audience participation.

  • Engaging with Refugees: The key themes of Being an Islander - including mobility and immigration - present the opportunity for the Fitzwilliam to engage with more diverse audiences, particularly those who may not have visited the Museum before, including immigrants and refugees, who are often amongst some of the most marginalised members of our society. Given the connectivity between the project’s themes and these communities, we are aiming to develop new engagement activities, in collaboration with umbrella organisations and where possible, to integrate their voices into the exhibition in 2023.

  • This strand will be central to our work during 2022. In preparation, we have started our collaboration with community groups, charities and organisations within the UK that are dedicated to supporting migrants, refugees as well as recently resettled people in the United Kingdom. We have developed partnerships with the Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign (CRRC), a charity organisation which is part of the Citizens UK national campaign, that aims to help resettle refugees across the UK, and with the Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group (CAMCRAG), which supports refugees in Europe by sending volunteer convoys and raising awareness and funds. With both organisations, we delivered virtual meetings and panel talks, and have made preliminary arrangements to extend our collaboration in 2022.

  • A highlight of our programming around the theme of migration and refugees was a performance jointly organised by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettles Yard Museum, and the Heong Gallery, on 15 March 2021, by artist Issam Kourbaj. The sound and drawing performance titled ‘Imploded, burnt, turned to ash’ marked the tenth anniversary of the Syrian uprising. The performance begun with Kourbaj drawing fragments of Arabic words and eye idols on a large surface in layers, repeating and obscuring them. The words are inspired by the teenage graffiti that sparked the Syrian uprising in March 2011, and the eye idols are based on the three Syrian eye idols from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own collection. The performance was livestreamed and a recording of it exists here. Issam’s display of 366 eye idols, titled: ‘Don’t Wash Your Hands: neither light agrees to enter the eyes nor air the lungs’ (A. G. Leventis Gallery of Ancient Cyprus, Fitzwilliam Museum, October 2020- September 2021), created from Aleppo Soap and inspired from the Fitzwilliam’s Tell Brak eye figurines, also received very positive reviews despite the reduced accessibility brought by the winter lockdown. An example in the press in the display’s review on the Economist’s Prospero magazine by Veronique Mistiaen

  • On 17 June 2021 we organised a special panel talk titled: ‘Refugees in Museums’ an event also part of the programming of Refugee Week events nationally: Online talk - Refugees in Museums | Refugee Week The online panel talk aimed to highlight the resonance the refugee crisis had to contemporary art and poetry, and more generally the role of Museums in responding to social phenomena such as this. Panellists included the artist Issam Kourbaj, celebrated poet Ruth Padel, representatives of the Cambridge refugee support groups CamCRAG and CRRC) and Fitzwilliam Museum curators and learning and engagement specialists, Anastasia Christophilopoulou, Richard Kelleher and Miranda Stearn.

  • Supporting health and wellbeing:

  • In 2021 we also launched our targeted programming strands centred around the Museum’s focus on health and wellbeing. Our learning specialists, Jacqui Strawbridge, Jennie Thornber and Nicola Wallis, aided by other members of the Learning and Engagement team and supported by Christophilopoulou and Stearn, delivered over ten specialised sessions for those with disabilities, focusing on groups with mental health challenges, as well as with blind and partially sighted visitors, an area of community engagement with which both learning, and Antiquities Department have years of expertise. Importantly, this work ensures that the research undertaken as part of Being an Islander will remain connected into the Museum’s ongoing business-as-usual activity even after the end of this project.

  • Learning and Schools programming : in 2021 we developed Being an Islander related content within our formal learning programme, particularly targeting primary school aged children, as part of transforming our formal learning offer in response to the COVID pandemic and creating a new offer driven by the project’s current research. As part of our new Fitz Schools virtual platform we developed through consultation with teachers, the project lead and education specialist staff in the museum collaborated to create 5 films and animation relating to our antiquities collections and Being an Islander. This included working with local primary school children to identify questions they wanted to learn about, which were then incorporated into an ‘Ask the expert’ film, as well as films centred on the Pashley sarcophagus, ancient ceramics, and ancient myths. Since their launched in September, the films have been viewed over 1,250 times, potentially representing over 30,000 children if these were whole classes.

  • We also created ‘Look Think Do’ starter activities for schools and families relating to Being an Islander themes, looking at objects both ancient and contemporary (using artist Issam Kourbaj’s installation) in the context of movement and migration. The new online resources are being used by schools who are unable to visit the Museum, but also to support those who have participated in our re-launched schools offer onsite. One teacher wrote: “The videos were really helpful to show children, especially those that are a bit anxious about new things and because it has been a long time since they have been able to attend school visits. It gave them a taster of what to expect. I was amazed by how much they took in and as we were moving around the museum they kept spotting artefacts that they had seen on the video.” Another wrote: “The pottery painting video was great! The children have produced some beautiful pieces of art as a result.”

  • Alongside developing virtual learning resources, the Museum’s Learning Department worked with the Being an Islander project on a refreshed onsite school workshop to introduce pupils to ancient Greece. Following suspension due to COVID, the new sessions launched in October 2021, and in the first 2 months of delivery reached 284 KS2 children (and 32 teachers). This was across 11 sessions and 8 schools. Teachers have responded positively. All survey respondents strongly agree that ‘the delivery of the session I attended was appropriate for my pupils’ learning needs; allowed time to share their ideas; encouraged pupils to look closely at museum objects or paintings and to form their own interpretation; The content of the session I attended sufficiently addressed the objectives for the visit.’ Teachers wrote in the survey:

    “The children loved it and it was so enriching for their learning!”

    “I thought the session was well prepared and impressively displayed…. It was a wonderful experience for the learners and we will be back, for sure!”

    “The session with the museum staff was great. They were fantastic with the children… looking in depth at the pots and the other items that we did was equally beneficial and most of it picked up work that we had done in the classroom and allowed children to see real artefacts and make the links to their prior learning. We had a great day and the children all really enjoyed their visit. I had a few messages from parents on Friday evening to say how much the children had enjoyed it and that they were still buzzing about it when they got home. Thank you for a wonderful day out.”

  • Another key area of our education delivery for 2021 was the creation of high-quality replicas of key objects from our Cyprus and Crete ancient collections, which made for the starting point of delivery of outreach sessions in the school context of the community. The replicas, paired with the already developed strands of the project’s research, such as the themes of insularity and mobility, have also supported our health and wellbeing, initiative as part of this project, as well as across the Museum. An important example is the delivery of outreach sessions employing those replicas and their accompanying narratives to long -term patients at Addenbrookes University Hospitals, children, and adults’ wards.

  • Being an Islander has also provided the starting point for activities for our targeted family offer, including school holiday programming. For our family audiences, we have focused on several themes within the ancient world, including ancient island architecture and its links to local resources and ways of life; everyday life and domesticity; mobility and characteristics of island life as opposed to the mainland; food and insular diets; distinctive art forms and crafts originating from the islands and many more. Several children’s workshops explored ideas around Mediterranean migration through myths and stories, as well as material culture.

  • The interactive and virtual reality elements of the project that are being developed now, will offer new ways for our diverse audiences to engage with the project’s research questions so resonant with our contemporary world. In 2022 and 2023 we will expand these sessions with young people, helping to refine the narrative and approach for both exhibition and public outreach programmes.

In 2019-2020:

  • Handling sessions for general and research audiences in the Fitzwilliam Museum with material from the Cypriot and Aegean Collections

  • Touch tours of the Cypriot and Aegean World Antiquities of the Fitzwilliam Museum for blind and partially sighted audiences, as well as groups of people with other physical or mental disabilities and their carers.

  • Nora at The Fitz: a literary evening with award-winning Cypriot author Nora Nadjarian, introduced by Ingrid Jendrzejewski and narrated by the curators, researchers, and staff of the Fitzwilliam Museum. This event took place under the auspices of HE the High Commissioner of Cyprus in the UK, Mr Andreas S. Kakouris at the A. G. Leventis Gallery of Ancient Cyprus, Fitzwilliam Museum, January 30, 2020 (60 participants).

  • A series of workshops (entitled Make Your Own Boat), narrations, and activities on the theme of ancient migration around the Mediterranean, organised by the Learning Team and researchers of the Fitzwilliam Museum for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, October 22, 2019 (40 participants)

  • Object pottery and metalware handling session by the project’s curator and conservators for the Alumni Festival on September 27, 2019 (40 participants).

  • Professor Paul Cartledge and Dr Anastasia Christophilopoulou narrated the history of the city of Salamis, Cyprus and of the antiquities from the region now housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in this video:

Visit of the NEPOMAK network of Cypriot youth (Being an Islander community partner) to the Fitzwilliam Museum, September 2021
Visit of the NEPOMAK network of Cypriot youth (Being an Islander community partner) to the Fitzwilliam Museum, September 2021
A snapshot and reactions from the audience from Issam Kourbaj’ s ‘Imploded, burnt, turned to ash’ sound and drawing performance, March 2021, co-organised by   the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard Museum and the Heong Gallery.
A snapshot and reactions from the audience from Issam Kourbaj’ s ‘Imploded, burnt, turned to ash’ sound and drawing performance, March 2021, co-organised by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard Museum and the Heong Gallery.
Issam Kourbaj’ s poetry collection on the Mediterranean refugee crisis, published in 2020, presented during the panel talk.
Issam Kourbaj’ s poetry collection on the Mediterranean refugee crisis, published in 2020, presented during the panel talk.
Ruth Padel’s poetry and prose on the Mediterranean refugee crisis, was discussed during the panel talk.
Ruth Padel’s poetry and prose on the Mediterranean refugee crisis, was discussed during the panel talk.
Snapshots from the panel event 'Refugees in Museums'
Snapshots from the panel event 'Refugees in Museums'
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