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Makerspaces at the V&A

Dr Alison Buxton conducts an interview with Dr Helen Charman, Director of Learning and National Programmes at the V&A Museum.
Museums can play an exciting part in makerspaces and how we deliver makerspaces. They’ve got a long, long history of displaying artefacts, made by people over time, and they’re also a fantastic space where communities, young people, old people can come and view some amazing things, but also have hands on experiences. And so today we’ve come to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to explore some of their collections and to speak to Helen Charman. She’s the Director of Learning here at the museum.
Having a makerspace in the context of museum is a brilliant way to connect our audiences and our learners with the experience of making, to bring our audiences closer to our collection. And that’s making whether analogue or digital. To give our audiences experiences of materials and processes, and help them unlock both the creativity of the artists, the designers, the innovators whose works we display, but also more importantly to unlock their own creativity. We are going through something of a crisis in creative education for our young. There’s a split between the creative skills that young people need for industry, for their futures. So we’re talking about creative thinking, creative practice, critical thinking, building their confidence, communication skills, content knowledge.
There’s a split between those skills, and for many young people, the education that they’re receiving at the moment in schools and we’re hopeful that will change. So makerspaces in museums can connect up young people with the real world of creative practice. And makerspaces for the young in particular are essential because this is the world that young people inhabit and will inherit. They need the skills to shape and change that world. The main guidance I would give anyone seeking to establish a makerspace is to really understand the needs of your learners, the needs of your audiences.
And then you just need to think about the qualities of the space itself, and the equipment that you’ll need, the facilities, how you’re going to run the space, the business model if you like. And there are many different business models that operate in this sphere, whether you can - which I would really advise, spend time doing your piloting. Give yourself the opportunity for things not to work out initially so you can iterate. I think also looking at your staff. What skills do you already have, and you will probably unlock a whole plethora of knowledge and skills and expertise that perhaps was implicit.
Because you weren’t running the programmes and now you are, so you can really make the most of those opportunities. And then thinking about where your staff need to develop new skills. Can you work in partnership, rather than replicating an offer that’s already somewhere else in the community. And again, just coming back to the idea of the makerspace as a space of community building. The makerspace is particularly for families who are looking for something to do on a day out which is great fun, but also we know often as parents or carers as you’re looking for a little bit of added value. What can you do here that you can’t necessarily do at home.
And again, that sense of the social engagement, of thinking through making and making together. You know, tinkering, hacking, creating, collaborating, building, rebuilding, things tumbling down, having another go, being experimental. All of this sometimes at scale, sometimes very intimately. Trying things out, new bits of magical, wonderful, scary looking equipment. All of this is a whole world that is opened up. And of course, we know that we will learn through play and through making. So it’s absolutely endemic to the child actually, this way of engaging with the world.
And we do need our young people to understand the material world, and that they have agency, and impact in this world as much as we increasingly need them to understand the needs of the natural world. So makerspaces can be places of connection and learning and the joy of making. Yeah. And I think it can also bring in a sense of identity to so many of the artefacts and objects that we see in museums. Absolutely. Yeah. As a young person to think well actually, I’m having a go at making this and seeing all of these objects and artefacts there, and being able to realise that, that was once upon a time made by somebody through a process. Exactly.
And there’s a bit of connection there. Yeah, there is. There’s that point around unlocking the past and connecting sometimes across different heritages, through different skills, and also connecting with members of your family. So not to be making any assumptions but it may well be that older generations would have had more experience of those making skills in an analogue sense than perhaps the younger generations do. So museums also can connect up the past with the present and also look to the future.
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Makerspaces for Creative Learning

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