The Migration Museum has been putting on exhibitions since 2013, exploring different migration stories and bringing them to life. With migration a pressing issue at the centre of debates, the museum works with and for communities to encourage conversations and reflection. They want to change the narrative around migration and believe it can be the thing to connect us.
It is a museum without a conventional collection of its own. The stories people bring and the objects they lend are what forms their collection. Co-creation is not an idea to be executed but is embedded in the organisation’s daily operation.
The museum is a platform where migrants feel they belong and are represented – a place where personal stories of migration are shared and understood, and a space to explore how migration has shaped our lives. They also want to tell a story that challenges the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’. They believe that people from all backgrounds are connected, and that comings and goings to the UK are part of everyone’s story.
A lot happens around the year at the museum, including events exploring themes and key dates such as Refugee Week, various workshops and masterclasses in the museum’s Migrant Makers Market led by migrant artists and makers, and ‘story in focus’ tours highlighting themes and stories from its exhibitions led by volunteers and team members. Voices of people are what brings these events to life. People who have stories to share bring in their ideas for exhibitions. Through the museum’s network, they connect artists and storytellers to come up with unique ways of presenting the story.
The museum also reaches out to students to hear their thoughts on migration. In the Moving Stories: Lewisham competition held in 2022, young people from across Lewisham were invited to design exhibits responding to what migration means to them. They partnered with an artistic mentor in developing their work, and the winner’s idea was developed into a full exhibit.
Dialogue is the start and end point
Co-creation is a core value, and the voices of visitors contribute to the museum experience. The museum places visitor books in exhibitions for people to share their reflections. Dialogues are fostered between visitors, while visitors are invited to add their story. Exhibitions become not only points of belonging but points of connection.
“Dialogue is the starting point of everything, but we also hope it is the ending point. Having real and high-quality dialogues with our co-creators results in better dialogue with our audiences and among our audiences,” says Georgina Lewis, the museum’s Director of Development.
One person wrote in the visitor book: “Through the conversations I had, through this visit and interacting with things related to migrants, I feel more connected. Thank you for having this space.”
Changing the national narrative
Looking to the future, the museum hopes to build engagement values together with its communities. Through the People’s Panel, 15 local people from different backgrounds are invited to say what the museum could do or be for the community. Currently based at the Lewisham Shopping Centre, the museum has recently secured a permanent home in the City of London.
The museum also has ambitions to have a national presence, connect with similar organisations to share best practice, and amplify the work of others. The Migration Museum is rethinking what a modern museum can be.
By Sze Kee Jasmine Wong, King’s College London Cultural & Creative Industries MA.Other case studies