Fancy coming to an online talk and participating in a discussion that will help shape our exhibition and possibly research that will follow on from it? On Wednesday 5th May, at 6pm UK time, Mark and I will be giving a free talk about our exhibition ‘Weimar 1919-1933 Dancing on a Volcano’. We’re giving this talk – via Zoom – for the Lit & Phil Library, Newcastle. It’s free to attend and all you need to do is register. You can do so here: https://www.litandphil.org.uk/events/products/weimar-1919-1933-dancing-on-a-volcano/
So, what’s the talk about and why am I banging on about participation? The talk is about our exhibition – the one that should have happened last summer, has been put on hold because of COVID but will eventually happen, whatever the hurdles – logistical, funding or anything else besides. The will is there and so will the way be. In our talk we’ll not only tell you about the exhibition and its origins, the processes of putting this exhibition together but we’ll also be inviting you to participate – to share ideas, thoughts, ask questions, make suggestions. Why are we doing this? Let me explain.
The impetus for this exhibition resulted from a series of interrelated factors but significantly from the desire to have on-going conversations and using the past to that end. There was an incident that sparked this and being the academic I am my response was to turn to research – bringing together scholarly interests and my own enjoyment of photography, coupled with Mark’s expertise in it and in curating exhibitions. However, to find out about that, you’ll just have to come along to the talk.
From the beginning we wanted this to be a genuinely public event. Yes, we could have held it on either or indeed both of our then respective campuses but that would have limited our audiences – attracting only those already there or a select community inclined to attend university events. Yet, that felt uncomfortably exclusionary. My then mentor, Dr. Paul Fleet of Newcastle University, recommended the Lit & Phil https://www.litandphil.org.uk/ and so off we went for a look and were immediately taken with the place. It might be a members’ library but it is so much more, it is open to the general public for admission and it is in the heart of Newcastle, close to the station so easily accessible. Mark will talk more about how the venue fits with our exhibition concept but suffice it to say that it was the welcoming place we were looking for and precisely why we will hold the exhibition there – when it is safe to do so – even though my brief sojourn to the city ended with my 1-year contract almost a year ago.
Now let me get to the question of audience participation. No we’ve not run out of ideas. In fact we have plenty and paring them down is more of a challenge than coming up with them. The talk will give us a chance of gauging our audience and responses to our exhibition, which will help with finalizing what goes in and what we have to leave out. Given that this is to be a public event it follows that not only should it be widely accessible but we should create opportunities for input at this stage. The pandemic delay has caused us to flag – hampered as we are by a lack of funding, inability to access archives etc. and so some loss of momentum and motivation was perhaps inevitable, but it has also given us more thinking time, allowing us to muse on including other themes we might otherwise not have – e.g. responses to the Spanish Flu – and on our approach, about including you at this stage rather than later.
There are many joys to be found in participation. With the isolation of lockdowns being involved in something – however tangentially – feels like a food that nourishes the soul. Participation also helps with that flagging motivation – last week I put out a Tweet, linked to the talk, and expected no more than a dozen answers at best. What followed was something of a Twitter storm with responses and discussion lasting for over 2 days. The question was really a simple one:
I’ve never had quite such a response to a Tweet – and several hours of analyzing the responses and a multiple page spreadsheet later I have over 350 answers to that question, some of which you can see in the word clouds below.
There were, inevitably, some responses that did not relate to the question – ranging from responses on the city of Weimar itself rather than the first democracy to which the city lent its name, references to Weimaraner dogs – which only made me think of possibly the most famous Weimaraner dog (I may be biased here) – Tolpuddle of Julia Chapman’s ‘Dales Detective Series’ fame https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/julia-chapman/21963 – through to the inspired response – ‘Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welkom’, which made me chuckle. Well I did ask an open question so a range of responses was only to be expected, even if I don’t see it, or Weimaraner dogs (sorry Julia) making their way into the exhibition. Most of all, it just reinforced our view that participation is a joyous thing.
So, if you’ve got a spare hour between 6-7pm on Wednesday 5th May, why don’t you come along and join in. See you Wednesday!