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The Past for the Present: Community Action Research at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Past for the Present: Community Action Research at Dulwich Picture Gallery

In the Spring of 2022 Shortwork worked with the Dulwich Picture Gallery(DPG) to recruit nine Community Researchers (CRs) to work on the Past for the Present research project. The project aimed to explore how the Gallery's collection of Old Masters could be interpreted in a way that connects with the lives of diverse, contemporary audiences.

At the start of the project the CRs took part in six in-person training days in Participatory Action Research (PAR) methods delivered by the Shortwork team. Following the training the researchers split into three teams each focusing their fieldwork on one of the Boroughs’ surrounding the Gallery - Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark. They planned their fieldwork together, based on their knowledge of the area, existing networks and interests.

During the fieldwork the teams engaged with 229 people during 22 research sessions in venues across the three Boroughs including community centres, schools, health centres, libraries, shopping centres, cafes, and community festivals.

During an analysis workshop the team worked together to make sense of the research findings, and came up with key findings and recommendations to help the Gallery to understand how to:

1. Find ways for people to feel a sense of ownership and belonging in the Gallery; 

2. Consider the stories that are missing
in the Gallery and in the narratives told about the building, the history of the collection, and the artworks themselves; and 

3. Re-frame DPG so it speaks to contemporary audiences. 

Headline recommendations to the Gallery include:

* Be proactive in making people feel welcome and at ease
* Make the Gallery building and grounds accessible and comfortable
* Actively engage with communities locally
* Reflect South London’s diverse communities
* Historicise the Gallery, the artists and their work
* Address live political social and environmental issues
* Find ways to ‘spice up’ DPG
* Strengthen and diversify the DPG collection and offer
* Promote opportunities for learning and discovery

The rich and detailed findings and recommendations from the research can be found in the Past for the Present research report which is downloadable using the link below.

The research findings have been put to use already, and the CRs continue to stay involved in shaping:

* New family storytelling sessions;
* A new adult tour focusing on LGBTQI themes;
* The Past for the Present exhibition using participatory art work that can be added to and responded to by visitors;
* Digital content focusing on families and young audiences; and
* A longer term curatorial research plan building on the themes suggested through the research.

In order to communicate the research findings and recommendations effectively, both to those who participating in the research sessions, but also to wider audiences, the team worked with Ada Jusic [], an illustrator and animator, who produced a research poster based on the initial analysis carried out by the community researcher teams.

Alongside this poster, the team worked with Calum Perrin [], one of our community researchers who is also a musician, and Rachel Waite [https://www.], a singing for wellbeing facilitator, to compose a trio of ‘findings songs’ that encapsulate three key takeaways from the research.

“Let me in”
“Show me, me”
“Don’t be afraid of the difficult”

The poster and songs were shared at the celebration event in the Gallery. The guests were invited to join in and learn the songs so they could let the meaning and significance of the research sink in through the experience of singing.

This has been a dream project to work on, thanks to the brilliant team of people involved including Adeolu, Yaya, Rosemary, Niki, Jo, Nathan, Celia, Roger, Tara, Calum, Magdalen, Kelly, Myles, Eduardo, Jane, Helen, and Lucy.

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