Curating for Change and The Sensational Museum

Curating for Change are pleased to be partnering with The Sensational Museum. The Sensational Museum: using what we know about disability to change how museums work for everyone. Researchers from across England partner with leading heritage organisations to reimagine our experiences of museums.

Led by Professor Hannah Thompson (Royal Holloway, University of London), this £1M project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council wants to transform access and inclusion within the museum sector by putting disability at the centre of museum practice and acknowledging the diversity and difference of all visitors. The team, that also includes Social Design specialist Anne Chick (University of Lincoln); Psychologist Alison Eardley (University of Westminster); and Museum Studies expert Ross Parry (University of Leicester) will work with disabled and non-disabled visitors, staff, and sector organizations to prototype and test a range of new ways of accessing museum collections and cataloging objects. The 27-month long project (April 2023-July 2025) will focus on two key areas: how museums manage the objects in their collections and how the stories behind these objects are communicated to the public. At workshops and events across the UK, The Sensational Museum will develop a sense-based approach to collection and communication. This approach assumes that no specific sense is necessary or sufficient to work with or experience museum collections.

Thompson explains, “many people want or need to access and process information in ways that are not only – or not entirely – visual. But museums are very sight-dependent places. Let’s imagine a museum experience that plays to whichever senses work best for you. The project aims to give all visitors inclusive, engaging, enjoyable and memorable experiences.”

The Sensational Museum is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Visit The Sensational Museum to learn more about the project and to sign up for news and events updates.

Twitter: @SensationalMus

Project Team:

  • PI: Hannah Thompson (R)
  • Co-Is: Anne Chick (University of Lincoln); Alison Eardley (University of Westminster); Ross Parry (University of Leicester)
  • Sector Lead: Esther Fox (Curating for Change)
  • Impact Lead: Matthew Cock (VocalEyes)

Esther Fox, Head of the Accentuate programme, lead for Curating for Change says:

“We are delighted to partner with the Sensational Museum on this exciting initiative to really examine what museums mean for audiences and staff. Our work with Curating for Change puts disabled people at the heart of leading change within museums and we are excited to support the Sensational Museum in building on this approach.”

Prof Ken Badcock, Senior Vice Principal (Academic Strategy and Research) Royal Holloway University of London says:

“The Sensational Museum is an exciting project that builds on academic strengths across Humanities and Social Sciences, draws on Royal Holloway’s traditional affinity with the cultural sector, and works with a range of project partners. The target to create examples of what an enriched and inclusive museum experience could be is exactly the sort of impact that the University is looking to generate.”

Professor Ross Parry, Director, Institute for Digital Culture, University of Leicester says:

“The Sensational Museum project will do something we have never tried before – following a museum object through its journey. Right from being collected and entering the museum for the first time, through its moment of documentation, up to when it is displayed and experienced in exhibitions and public activities. As we follow that object, we will be able to trace and evidence what gets imposed by our systems and practices – the moments when sensory assumptions are made in describing and recording the object, and in the way museum staff are assumed to interact with it. We have the opportunity, in other words, to re-imagine a new accessible form of collections management – both for people visiting and working in museums.”

Alison Eardley, Department of Psychology, University of Westminster says:

“Taking a co-creation approach, working with disabled audiences and practitioners, our exploration, piloting, and testing phases will be underpinned by empirically driven quantitative and qualitative research, to ensure generalisable outcomes that we hope will form the bedrock of a process of change across the sector, enhancing the museum experience for all visitors.”  

Mike Ellis, Founder, The Museum Platform says:

“At the heart of The Museum Platform is an aim to improve usability and access – not just for the public but also for time-pressed museum staff who need to maintain this content. We’re therefore delighted to be involved in The Sensational Museum, and are excited about getting deeply involved in the project with you and with all project partners over the coming months.”

Kevin Gosling, The Collections Trust says:

“While we welcome all aspects of the project, we are especially excited that it will develop an inclusive, open-access documentation interface linked to the Museum Data Service. Not before time, this will make it easier for a wider range of users to work with the information at the heart of museum practice.”

Eric Langham, Founder, Barker Langham says:

“We are delighted to be part of the Sensational Museum project, and are eager to explore the prospect of redefining ‘accessibility’ not as an add-on but as an integral part of everyone’s experience. By identifying more equitable ways for all visitors to engage with museum content in a trans-sensory way, together we can begin to reimagine the museum through a new sensory logic.”

Quonya Huff, President of the Scottish Museums Federation says:

“We’re excited to be part of this pioneering project and even more so that it will bring tangible training to the Scottish museum and galleries sector.”

Georgia Monk, Senior Project Manager, Exhibitions, Wellcome Collection says:

Wellcome Collection is in the process of developing its approach to inclusive and accessible exhibition making for several years and this is the perfect moment for us to engage with the Sensational Museum project and learn collaboratively with this extraordinary group of peers and partners.