Bradford's National Museum: Methods for re-founding 'inter/national' museums translocally

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Fine Art History of Art&Cult Stud


The designation of a museum as 'national' implies a number of things: status and significance; a settled view of how collections fall within disciplinary boundaries (art, history, science); certain types of relations with visitors as citizens; specific forms of governance and funding structures; and a conceptual affiliation to the civic and the state. Yet the political and epistemic settlement that has underpinned the 'national museum' is under pressure on all of these fronts, with significant funding cuts, trans-disciplinary innovations and global flows of people, goods, capital and ideas that transcend national borders. Based in a city that has come to exemplify so many of these processes, 'Bradford's National Museum' project will deploy ideas of 'translocality' - a concept which foregrounds the connections between people in specific local areas rather than between national states and capital cities - as a way of re-framing the political geographies of museums.

The 'Bradford's National Museum' project - conceived with the National Media Museum (NMeM), part of the Science Museum Group (SMG) - will deploy 'translocality' in three ways, as a research method (with strands of work which are multi-sited and link Bradford with other local places), as an approach (of community network building in Bradford and through the connections Bradford has to other local places in other countries specifically Pakistan, Indian, Bangladesh, Commonwealth of Dominica and Poland) and as a concept (to support the development of new readings of inter/national in the context of museums).

The NMeM was founded as the National Museum for Photography, Film and Television in 1983, at a moment of optimism for Bradford. However, in the 1990s and 2000s different characterizations of the city hardened, the effect of three decades of national media and policy rhetoric which had sought to represent and account for 'what's wrong with Bradford'. The NMeM has been both affected by, and a player in, these national narratives of Bradford. Since its establishment, the museum has often been cited as a reason to come to Bradford in tourism and business relocation campaigns. Yet the NMeM has found a tension in its mission between being locally-engaged and maintaining a high-status role in international photography, film and television peer networks. Recent public debates concerning the sustainability of the NMeM have made visible a tension between the desire for the status that comes from Bradford having a national museum and an equally strong desire for local accountability.

The Bradford's National Museum project will explore the political geographies of the NMeM and wider SMG and of the different communities who live in Bradford as a means of addressing the tensions facing inter/national museums in engaging their local audiences. The project will work with the idea of Bradford not as a 'global city', but as provincial and connected translocally and place this in dialogue with the NMeM's focus on the 'science and culture of sound and vision technologies'. The research questions will be addressed through systemic action research allowing us to build a 'working picture' of the role the NMeM currently plays and use this to identify blocks as well as pathways for productive change. In Phase 1 it will use co-producing translocal stories with people who live locally to 'Write Bradford into the NMeM'. In Phase 2, the project will identify targeted interventions that will 'Write the NMeM into Bradford', refounding the 'national' in the NMeM translocally. In Phase 3, the project will ensure wider applicability through working with the NMeM SMG sister museums NRM and MOSI, by building exchanges with other museums internationally - the Smithsonian Institution (US) and via Beaconhouse National University (Pakistan) - and through identifying the implications of the research in a UK context through practitioner and policy-maker workshops.

Planned Impact

The Bradford's National Museum (NMeM) project will benefit a wide range of practitioners, policy makers and communities.

To describe benefit from the centre of the project outwards, the most immediate beneficiaries of the research will be the NMeM and the wider Science Museum Group (SMG). Through the project new ways of working will be identified. This will be done through drawing translocal research approaches into museum practice - multi-sited ethnography, trans-national history and science and technology studies - in order to articulate new curatorial and community engagement methods. The research will map, track and build new networks with, and for, the museum as a way of identifying new roles for the NMeM in Bradford. Exhibitions and programmes will be developed to consolidate the learning and relationships and, as the Phase 1 research design has it, 'Write Bradford into the NMeM'. The museum will then identify the structures that will sustain and embed these ways of working, both through trans-local methods into permanent display, Treasures (working title) and through organizational structures and roles with Bradford.

As part of the research design, the project will identify transferable and widely applicable methods for refounding museums in their local communities. The project will do this through projects which test and refine the methods identified in Bradford in new contexts. It will do this in the first instance with two of the NMeM's sister museums, MOSI in Manchester and National Railway Museum in York.

We will then undertake two exchanges beyond the UK. The first with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC through the project partnership with the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access and in Pakistan via Beaconhouse National University and our partnership with Professor Salima Hashmi.

By this point of dissemination a series of stages of crystallization will have been undertaken so that final phase of dissemination is high quality and usable for a wide range of museum practitioners and policy makers in the UK and beyond. This will be done through publications, workshops and conferences sharing these ideas more widely. Alchemy, one of the project partners, will play a key role here in deploying their well established practitioner networks both in museums and in the wider cultural sector.

Bradford as a local authority will benefit from the project through the ways in which the NMeM be able to play a clearer and better developed role within urgent issues and challenges facing Bradford, from schools to inward investment through the representation of both Bradford Metropolitan District Council and Bradford University on the Project Advisory Network. At the same time, the NMeM will contribute towards Bradford and its development by using itself as a platform for sharing a rich and wider range of stories about the city than those most common heard in UK media and policy. Policy makers in local authorities UK wide will benefit form the learning via our end of project publications and events.

Funders will be engaged throughout the project though our Project Advisory Network. This will enable the project to develop useful and resonance knowledge about how different funding regimes might contribute towards museums paying a rooted and contributing role in their local areas yet also, translocally and connected beyond.


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