At the National Wool Museum we have a committed group of volunteers that have, in many cases, given decades of their time to the Museum and its visitors. When COVID closed the Museum the volunteers were no longer able to continue this important work, which was a loss for both us and them. As volunteer manager, I was mindful of the importance of staying connected with our volunteers. We wanted to support them through isolation and provide them with opportunities to continue to support the Museum.
Initially one way of doing this was through a series of Collection Stories that were shared on social media and eventually became a feature on our website. These brought together collection items with oral histories from the volunteers: an opportunity to continue to share their immense knowledge of the Museum, the wool industry and Geelong.
As the periods of isolation continued I looked for a way for the volunteers to connect and contribute to the Museum that was related to both our history and our shared experience of the pandemic. This project become The Isolation Quilt. In honour of the Museum’s collection of Wagga quilts, volunteers were invited to stitch a square to contribute to a shared quilt – making do with whatever they had at home.
After many months the pieces came together were joined into a quilt by Judith Oke. When the Museum opened it was featured in our new exhibition Waggas: the art and craft of making do. The unveiling event for the volunteers when we were all able to be together again at the Museum was a memorable day. The quilt is now part of the Museum collection – an enduring contribution of the volunteers and a preserved piece of social history that captures part of the lived experience of the pandemic.
There has been much talk of ‘pivoting’ activities and programs since the pandemic began. While some are tiring of the catch phrase, I have welcomed the opportunity to devote time and resources to testing and extending the National Wool Museum’s digital capabilities.
Back in March as we all headed home, we were due to launch a new festival – We The MakersDesign Festival – featuring two exhibitions and a festival of events. I had prepared around 25 events and was about to hit ‘print’ on our festival brochure when we realised it wasn’t going to pan out as we expected. Initially we postponed events, but soon we began strategising about how we could keep the festival spirit alive while we all sheltered in place.
My colleague Luke Keogh forged ahead with curating an interactive digital exhibition experience for the Designer Showcase component of the festival. I wanted to build on this experience to create opportunities for learning, participation and sharing for the broad audience that had originally been catered to in the program of events. And so We The Makers CREATE was launched.
Initially the project focussed on delivering free opportunities for people to learn and experience in their own time and at their own pace, with a series of courses, videos and downloadable activities. Plus a platform for the community to share their creations and promote their creative endeavours – the Creator Gallery. As the festival draws to a close we are also offering ticketed digital events for live experiences with the course artists.
There were many learnings from this project and lots of successes to celebrate. We were able to support a number of local and Victorian artists to contribute their skills to the creation of content, we provided a platform for more artists to share their work and promote their businesses, and we supported families and schools with learning activities to do at home. Like many organisations we faced the challenge of a flooded digital environment, short timeframes and untested concepts. But I feel we made the most of the opportunity to test our skills and reach new audiences.
While we, like many cultural institutions, were busy trying to ‘pivot’ our programs to digital experiences we noticed an opportunity to provide an alternative, tactile experience for an audience who may face difficulties accessing or using digital resources – early years students from disadvantaged communities.
In response to this we set to work to create physical remote learning packs for prep students from disadvantaged schools in the local area. These learning kits were designed to build literacy learning, fine-motor skill development and wellbeing, as well as share stories relevant to the Museum and local history. They featured a picture book by a local author plus craft materials and instructions to make pom poms, finger knitted animals, plus a woven cloud and rainbow.
Although the kits were designed for remote learning they were delivered after the resumption of face to face teaching. This gave teachers the opportunity to utilise them in a manner that suited them and their students: as individualised learning resources or home learning activities.
The response to the kits was extremely positive with feedback such as:
“Students LOVED making the pom poms.”
“The resources and lesson plans accompanying them were outstanding!”
The packs “supported development of fine motor skills, speaking and listening and the development of vocabulary.”
“On behalf of our students, school and families, thank you for the opportunity to access such thoughtful resources and activities that provided our students with a new experience and challenge.”
Our team was delighted to use resources and skills for hands-on learning program delivery, which we couldn’t provide in person, to create a program with a positive impact for over 250 grateful students and teachers.