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10.00  All the Fun of the Fairground: Challenges Representing the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Scotland’s Travelling Showpeople

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This paper will take as its starting point ongoing heritage discourses related to participatory, performative, and co-curational practices within museums, specifically those used to challenge or nuance culturally dominant narratives and authorized discourses. It will examine developing discourses surrounding intangible cultural heritage (ICH), specifically related to its performative nature and under-theorization in urban areas. Using an ongoing collaboration between the Riverside Museum and Glasgow’s Travelling Showpeople as an expanded case study, this paper will examine how the ICH of Fairgrounds is represented within Glasgow Museums, and discuss challenges representing ICH as part of a co-curated project with multiple stakeholders. Using the Fairground as a lens, the project will present an emerging methodology for the re-visioning of public space within and around the Riverside Museum via the temporary transformation of the post-industrial waterfront into a living-history exhibit and working funfair. This re-visioning considers tensions that arise from Glasgow’s Clydeside regeneration and the conflicting requirements of disparate stakeholders. While Fairgrounds have influenced the wider narrative of public space in Scotland the histories of those who orchestrate them remain largely invisible. The heritage of Scottish Showpeople is currently under-theorized and underrepresented within existing heritage narratives in UK institutions. While precise census data for UK Travelling communities is unreliable, it is estimated that Glasgow has the largest per capita concentration of Showpeople in Europe. 

The collaboration was initiated in 2013 as part of practice-based doctoral research by artist and researcher tsBeall, working with the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel (RM). Beall’s project, Fair Glasgow, developed new engagement strategies for the RM working with Showpeople, highlighted the ICH of Scottish Fairgrounds, and increased visitor engagement with these underrepresented histories. Using multiple engagement strategies, a team of museum staff and Showpeople co-devised a living history exhibition, “Behind the Scenes at the Fair,” staged in and around the Riverside Museum. The event connected existing museum displays with a temporary external fairground as part of an immersive, participatory visitor experience. 

This paper will examine the legacy of the initial artist-led project and outlines challenges presented by ongoing. It will address both the representation and re-presentation of ICH in the context of a living-history exhibition, examining the performance of expertise and the interpretation of ICH in the context of repeated presentations. Inherently, the paper will consider the re-visioning of the post-industrial waterfront by multiple stakeholders including Showpeople, examining the museum as part of Glasgow’s regeneration strategy for the Clyde Riverside. We will suggest that the temporary, cyclical transformation of public space inherent to Fairgrounds provides a useful lens for re-visioning the post-industrial urban environment. This collaboration employed performative and socially-engaged artistic practices as core methodologies (during the 2013 practice-as-research), and continues to employ what we identify as an emerging methodology of co-curation as “shared cooperation.”. We envision co-curation as a discursive, organic process where the relationships and agenda of each stakeholder must necessarily involve periods of flux. The Fair Glasgow project reveals substantive challenges of working with disparate stakeholders to co-curate events and museum displays that trouble established heritage narratives. We will argue that in order to achieve active and equitable partnerships with underrepresented communities, a degree of organizational adjustment within museums is essential. Key challenges for museums include their re-orientation towards community engagement, requiring flexible processes and working methods. We will conclude by highlighting new models of durational engagement and reciprocal collaboration that allow for an increase in the number and register of voices present within heritage institutions, and a nuancing of existing heritage narratives..

This paper is co-authored by t s Beall and Heather Robertson, and will be presented by t s Beall.
Heather Robertson has worked in museums for eleven years in a variety of roles. Her initiation into the museum world was at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine but it was the role as Research Assistant and then Project Curator on the Riverside Museum Project that first allowed her to work closely with museum visitors to interpret displays. Heather’s involvement with the Paul Hamlyn funded "Our Museums" project has ensured that people will always be at the centre of her work. Based at the Riverside Museum, Heather works for Glasgow Museums as Curator of Transport and Technology, but recognizes that a curator is not tied to the venue in which her office is situated and is instead a conduit for communities to museums—and therefore spends as much of her time as possible meeting with people in their own spaces.

t s Beall


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