I’ve just launched a new exhibition, 100 Objects from Special Collections at the University of Bradford. Inspired by the great popularity of the British Museum/BBC 100 objects, the exhibition will unfold weekly in social media spaces, including twitter, facebook, and flickr. Here’s a bit more about my thinking in creating the exhibition.
My inspiration was the motif of 100 objects. Clearly this was something people could relate to. The number is significant in a decimal society. It also (I think) has a deeper relevance. Large enough to tell a complex story, small enough to embrace them all. I keep returning to ideas about the number of friends people can have – about 100? The size of tribes, army units, trends on facebook etc. The ready made, recognisable brand would mean we wouldn’t have to explain the project in detail to people.
So what story would our objects tell? I could have chosen the peace archives, or Priestley, or the University itself. But 100 objects is way too many for any of these. A couple of promising areas (peace movements, Bradford) would be ideal, but so many of the relevant items are held by other organisations – would have to have been a joint project, possibly with funding (maybe later!). I’m working on another peace/social media project anyway, to be announced soon. I quickly decided to cover the range of our own collections, as this also offered a solution to something I have been pondering for a while.
Special Collections staff have a huge amount of knowledge and expertise about the Collections. Some of this is in our minds, much of it has been recorded in emails sent to people or documents created for previous exhibitions or other places. Increasingly I’m trying to get this out into the world, on the web, where others can use it. I’ve been using our blogs as a kind of brain dump for some time. 100 objects enables me to make the brain dump element into an exciting project.
How would we do it? Cheaply! I didn’t want to lose the momentum of the idea by creating a project for which we would have to raise external funding. My summer 2010 online exhibition, Priestley’s Finest Hour, offered a model: a weekly blog entry, promoted via twitter and in many other online spaces. The work needed can readily be done by the existing Special Collections staff, in odd bits of time, on the move, or at home.
The project also enables other staff to build skills in social media in an easy and fun way. It offers scope for moving to new media as they appear, or creating a physical publication or exhibition if the opportunity arises.
There are risks, but kept to a minimum. For example, if staff are sick or on leave, the project will pause (we have included pauses in the schedule anyway). If WordPress disappears, we move to another blog site. If other organisations create their own 100s, that’s brilliant, the more the merrier as we can cross-promote.