Dippy About Nature

In 2019 Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton ventures out of London for the first time since 1905 to embark on a road trip around the UK. For his Welsh leg of the tour, he visits National Museum Cardiff from 19 October 2019 to 26 January 2020. The remit from the Natural History Museum is that every partner venue uses Dippy as a way to inspire visitors to engage with contemporary environmental issues and to explore the natural world on their doorstep. They have also determined that we use Dippy as a vehicle to engage with an underrepresented audience.

We have a Youth Forum at each of our Museums across Wales. Young people aged 14-25 are encouraged to be partners in decision making and organising activities. The forums explore the views of young people and address issues that they think are important. 

Youth-led projects across the museum are part of the Hands on Heritage initiative, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Kick the Dust Grant. The Hands on Heritage project aims to connect young people with culture by working with partners including Barnardo’s Cymru, Llamau and ProMo Cymru to get young people from across Wales and from diverse backgrounds ‘stuck in’ to bringing all aspects of heritage to life. It aims to transform the way young people perceive, and engage with the museum.

Each year the Youth Forum takes part in two large scale participatory projects. These are completed over the course of regular fortnightly sessions at the museum between 5 and 7 pm with additional workshops on weekends at crucial points of larger projects.

Dippy About Nature exhibition at National Musuem Cardiff

Tasked with a way of making Dippy relevant to their peers the young people have chosen to raise awareness and inspire positive action around the climate crisis. They identified the environmental impact of the fashion industry as their ‘big issue’. The fashion industry has a massive environmental cost. It contributors about 10% of global carbon emissions; it is one of the biggest polluters, responsible for the release of a huge amount of microfibers and plastics into the ocean. They decided to link this with dinosaurs by fashioning a dinosaur from waste clothing and fashion items destined for landfill.

Once the theme was identified the group worked to develop their idea, we explored the works of artists from within the collections that either engaged with environmental issues or who worked using fabric and found objects including Laura Ford. Participants also spent time with palaeontology curators and collections to develop ideas of what the landscape would have looked like in the time of the Dippy and other dinosaurs.

They wanted to engage an artist to help them develop their vision, they were taken with the sculptural work of local artist Megan Broadmeadow so she was invited in to work with the group. After creating model boxes of the exhibit work began to prototype different elements of the installation. The forum decided to involve the public in making elements of the exhibit as a way of raising awareness of the issues. They developed and delivered making activities with families visiting the museum during the summer holidays. In addition, day-long workshops were run with young people from partner organisations including Llamau and The Prince’s Trust. These workshops also focused on using fashion to raise awareness and spread positive messages. Inspired by this they printed t-shirts and tote bags with slogans for change.

A window display in the exhibition

Young people have been integral to the whole project, a young writer and activist delivered writing workshops with the group to develop the exhibition text and Illustration and design Students from ‘Cardiff Met’ worked with them to develop the 2D design of the exhibition.  A member of the youth forum developed a twitter campaign complete with illustrations of dinosaurs acting in an environmentally conscious way!

During the project development, ‘Youth climate strikes’ announced a global day of action so banner-making workshops were held for young people and families in preparation for the strike. We used panels and vinyl banners from a recently closed temporary exhibition for the banners and placards.  These banners were displayed across the galleries and used on the demonstration. Participants fed back that it was great to see the museum aligning themselves to this cause:

it’s brilliant that the museum is doing this, and opening up for us to come in and use this stuff.

and we’re using recycled materials from that old exhibition thing, you walk the walk

‘Cardiff Youth for Climate’ worked with a Newport based artist collective to make a large scale model of the iconic Pierhead clock that is located in Cardiff Bay. The clock was used on the demonstration as a visual representation of the rapidly diminishing time to act on climate change. They approached the museum offering to loan the clock for display in the exhibition. Young people involved in the climate movement will add their stories to the interpretation.

When the exhibition opened the youth forum were keen to continue with activism around climate change. To that end, they are currently working with Extinction Rebellion to plan a day of activities and interventions at the museum later this year.

Climate strike banner, 2019

Outcomes

The ‘Dippy about Nature’ exhibition and activity space opened to the public on 18 October and is core to the public programme. The exhibition space accommodates the formal learning programme during term time and is an activity space for families during weekends and School holidays with a variety of self-led and facilitated activities and interactives. Volunteers that are supporting the Dippy programme deliver fossil handling and other engagement activity in the space. At the time of writing the space had been open for one month and welcomed over 16,000 visitors. More 4000 school children have taken part in workshops delivered in the space during this time.

Formal evaluation is planned for the Christmas holidays but anecdotal reviews and comments have been positive:

I think it does a really good job of getting being involved and interacting with fashion and climate activism

Museum visitor

The youth forum completed qualitative evaluation of their experiences in developing the exhibition

it’s been really fun, working together as a team creating art to steer environmental change

youth forum participant

Participants also identified that the experience was “empowering”, “creative” and “valuable”.

They also reported that the project developed new ‘making’ skills including sewing and screen printing alongside skills in planning, team working, creating project plans, research and event planning.

Young people screen printed bags with messages for action around climate change and biodiversity loss

Working in this activist way had a positive impact on the organisation. Developing and delivering an exhibition is a project that involves staff from many departments and teams. Staff who didn’t have a lot of experience in engagement had the opportunity to practice participatory practice and develop new skills.

The exhibition in part influenced the decision by the organisation to declare a global climate and ecological emergency, reconfirming its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. How we do this will be outlined in our new Ten Year Strategic Plan for Amgueddfa Cymru, which will be developed over the course of the next year.

We are currently working to develop a new schools programme linked to climate change and activism as a legacy of the project.

Grace Todd
Senior Learning, Participation and Interpretation Officer
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (ACNMW)

museum.wales