As Learning and Interpretation Manager for the Shekou project I am responsible for researching and developing the learning strategy and programme for the V&A Gallery as well as developing and implementing the interpretation plan. I am also advising on learning and interpretation for Design Society as a whole which involves collaborating with colleagues in China to devise, test and develop innovative learning opportunities for the museum. The exhibition ‘Unidentified Acts of Design’ at the 2015 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture (UABB) in Shekou, Shenzhen provided a rich and thought-provoking platform for audience research and development. Over the life span of the exhibition the V&A, in collaboration with Design Society staff members, hosted a panel discussion event, two family workshops and five audience research discussion groups to find out more about the needs and motivations of target audiences.The biennale functioned as a test site for practice-based research and experimentation with different approaches to learning and audience engagement. Discussion groups and events enabled a lively exchange about design, learning and cultural heritage in Shenzhen which will help us to create innovative learning opportunities and interventions locally and globally at the V&A Gallery in Shekou.
Developing a network of specialists, designers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, educators and community members has been crucial for understanding the context in which we were operating and gaining valuable knowledge and expert advice on their practices and ambitions. The process of communicating and building trust with individuals and organisations has been a learning curve in itself. WeChat/Weixin, the widest and most influential social media platform in China, has been an indispensable platform for facilitating this. A further legacy of this work is the establishment of these networks or ‘communities of practice’ that will continue to develop after UABB as a way to share practices and expertise, as well as playing the role of ‘critical friends’ for the new museum of design in Shekou.
University Lecturers Discussion Group 05/12/2015
As the first major museum of 20th and 21st Century design in China we want to situate the museum as a key resource for design students, currently numbering approximately two million, in China. To kick off the programme we invited professors teaching digital, architecture, animation and interior Design from Shenzhen University, Shantou University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Macao Polytechnic Institute and Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts to hear about the project and share their views on how the museum can welcome and collaborate with universities to offer innovative learning opportunities on design, education and museums.
Unidentified Acts of Design Panel Discussion Public Event 06/12/2015
For this event the curators of the exhibition, Brendan Cormier and Luisa E. Mengoni, were joined by a diverse cast of contributors, including makers, managers, researchers and artists featured in the display, to discuss and explore what role design intelligence plays in their day-to-day work and how it impacts the world we live in. The cross disciplinary nature and fairly quick-fire format (8 participants speaking for only 3 minutes each) was really effective leading to some very interesting discussion and heated debate between audience and speakers; a format to be explored further for the museum and future Shekou Sessions.
International School Teachers’ Discussion Group 09/12/2015
As a global hub for manufacturing, Shenzhen is an international city with a large expat community. As such we hosted a discussion group for international as well as local teachers. Fifteen teachers across primary and secondary level from Shekou International School (SIS), Shenzhen American International School (SAIS) and the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen joined us for a very productive and enjoyable evening discussing potential workshop and interpretation ideas to support schools in engaging with design at the museum. The teachers were incredibly enthusiastic about the prospect of the museum feeling that Shenzhen is lacking cultural learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
Family Fun Drop-in Workshops 12 and 13/12/2015
Shenzhen is a family city (49% married, of which 70% have children under 12 years old). We want to welcome this audience to the museum and to inspire the next generation of designers and consumers in Shenzhen. The museum is adjacent to Sea World—a shopping and leisure centre with a largely family audience, a big challenge will be to engage with this passing audience and draw them into the museum.
The aims of the workshops were to raise awareness of the project, to conduct some audience research into families and to test out different approaches to learning programming. Both sessions ran at capacity with around 65 children and 80 parents and carers participated in the workshops. We were over run by curious and enthusiastic participants who enjoyed getting involved in creative activities and working as a family team. Furthermore, with the help of Mandarin speaking volunteers we were able to survey parents to find more about how they spend their leisure time and their motivations, needs and requirements for accessing the gallery, its content and public programme.
Local Chinese Teachers’ Discussion Group 25/02/2016
Engaging with local schools in Shenzhen has been a challenge since visiting museums and galleries is not common practice as in the UK. Throughout the project we have been helped and supported by various organisations and individuals who are excited about the prospect of the V&A coming to China and enthusiastic to lend a helping hand. By working with partner organisations such as makerspaces, a key player in design education and extended learning here in Shenzhen, and local, community education organisations I have started to build a teachers network using WeChat/Weixin, without which this event in particular would not have been possible.
It was extremely rewarding and valuable to be able to run a discussion group with fifteen teachers from schools across the city including Yucai High School, Shenzhen No.2 Experimental School, SongGang No.2 Primary School, Shenzhen Middle School, Shenzhen Polytechnic and Gangwan (Harbour) Primary School. At the event we discussed how learning in the forthcoming V&A gallery could be integrated into their curricula in new and exciting ways to support students’ learning.
Creative Professionals’ Discussion Group 27/02/2016
Shenzhen is host to an established and growing design scene. It is a centre of innovation, particularly in the fields of digital and industrial design, and was named UNESCO City of Design in 2008. Creative professionals represent a key audience group, as well as playing a crucial role in establishing the museum as a ‘creative hub’ and potentially in producing content for public programmes and events. Thirteen Designers and makers working in a range of disciplines from graphic to fashion through to electronics joined us for the last afternoon of the biennale (27th February 2016) to explore how the museum can support and work with both emerging and established designers in Shenzhen.
Shekou Community Foundation Discussion Group 29/02/2016
The final discussion group was held at the offices of the Shekou Community Foundation; a collective of influential figures from the Shekou community, representing the interests of the community as a whole but with particular interest in education, families and opportunities for elderly citizens.