Interview with Francesca Davies
Francesca Davies was Project Assistant for the Equiano Project at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. In this interview she describes the touring exhibitions which accompanied the museum exhibition. Francesca Davies was interviewed by Geoff Cubitt and they are identified in this transcript as FD and GC respectively.
GC: Can I ask you about a significant aspect of the Equiano Project which is the touring exhibitions. Can you explain the relationship between the two?
FD: It was envisaged that there would be two smaller touring exhibitions across the West Midland and then across the UK to coincide with the launch of the main exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition designers designed the main exhibition and from that drew up plans for the two smaller exhibitions. The two smaller exhibitions are basically the Equiano Exhibition condensed into a smaller format so we can widen the audience that the project reaches. We recognised that some people wouldn't be able to get to Birmingham to see the main exhibition so we just tried to widen the audience. We were aware that most major regional museums would have an exhibition about slavery or abolition in 2007 so it was envisaged that the touring exhibitions would go to more interesting and diverse places, like community centres, churches, shopping centres, libraries and smaller venues that weren't able to generate funding for their own exhibitions or displays. We also administered a grant with the touring exhibition, a small grant, but one which meant that individual venues could have ownership of the exhibition and thereby do some outreach activities or community activities with the exhibition.
GC: Are these two different exhibitions?
FD: No they're identical. In the main exhibition there are nine sections and so in the smaller exhibitions there are also nine panels, which we've condensed.
GC: And how difficult was the process of condensing down the main exhibition?
FD: Well the difficulty was with the big exhibition, creating the smaller exhibitions was the easier bit. All the text and images had been agreed upon for the main exhibition so it was quite easy to kind of condense it all.
GC: Are the touring exhibitions just text or are there objects as well?
FD: No, there are four boxes with replica objects to accompany the panels.
GC: What kind of objects?
FD: We have an African box, which contains a cooking pot, a thumb piano, a replica Benin bronze and a manila. In the abolition box we have a conch shell, the royal mail postcards they released this year and Equiano's book. It was really so people could engage with the panels more through handling sessions. When they're not used for handling they are attached onto the panels in a display window. There's supplementary information as well for each of the objects. It's quite a basic version of the main exhibition, but it did have its own individual challenges, it had to be robust and it couldn't be too large.
GC: What kind of take up have you had?
FD: At the moment we've had about 15 venues booked, and that's up to February 2008. Those 15 have a fairly wide geographical range across the country. It was difficult in the initial phases of the overall project to encourage take up as the actual design of the main exhibition hadn't been finalised. It was problematic convincing venues to take a touring exhibition you couldn't be precise about but the subsequent enthusiasm for the exhibition has been really encouraging.
GC: Are you choosing which venues would be suitable?
FD: Yes, the whole of the Equiano Project working group make joint decisions as to which venues will be accepted. There is a certain overall number of visitors we would like to achieve but we've been working with the HLF to choose venues which emphasise quality over quantity. Instead of taking it to a large, regional museum where they would get 10,000 people through the door in one week, we would opt for a community centre, who might be doing some amazing work without much funding and have a huge amount of activities already going on within their community.
GC: So you are reaching very different types of audience, and perhaps non-voluntary audiences, people that might not be expecting to see an exhibition at all.
FD: Yes I think we're reaching some much wider audiences this way and definitely a certain amount of people who wouldn't think of entering into the museum.
GC: Do you supervise installation of the touring exhibition?
FD: Yes. I will go with the technicians and install the exhibition with the host organiser. I feel strongly about that. I think it's really good to meet them face to face and to help them install it. To help them in whatever they need help with, whether it's marketing, advertising or outreach events.