Process of Changemakers and a lasting change

Changemakers is a programme piloted and developed by Glasgow Museums as part of the OSCH project.
First piloted in September 2021, Changemakers have become a well established group of South Asian young people that come together to explore and drive advocacy for South Asian heritage in museums, as well as critiquing current museum displays and practice in Kelvingrove Museum. Meeting regularly since January 2022, they were given a safe space to allow youth led ideas to flourish, they have all participated, collaborated, and created in many different projects about heritage to share with the sector and the public.

In September 2021, Glasgow Museums facilitated The pilot project which ran over four days, with 4 young people aged between 17 – 25.

The sessions were used to explore the young peoples perceptions of museums, museum practice, issues of discrimination and racism within the arts and heritage sector, and critiquing the white centric and glorified imperialistic narratives displayed within Kelvingrove Art gallery and museum. The sessions included tours led by our Legacies of Slavery and Empire Curator exploring Kelvingrove, discussions based on their educational experience and life experience as South Asians, a space for exploring their interests, priorities and needs as young South Asians and what kinds of themes should be explored in the OSCH project, and establishing a safe space for mutual respect of each others nuanced identities. The pilot also gave space for creative responses to the displays and conversations had over the four days. The young people were paid for their time an input for this project.

This pilot paved the way to established a larger, longer term and committed group of 15 young people to come together and form “The Changemakers”. Since January 2022, they have collaborated in a range of projects, including The Museum Test, co-curating an exhibition on the legacies of Slavery and Empire in Kelvingrove Museum, a digital cookbook series, The Lascars project, Undivided Identities, Writer’s workshops and a spoken word event, and The Mango project by Rumpus Room. They have shared their work at various sector and public events including the Glasgow Mela, Museums Association Conference, the Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) Roundtable Strategy event, Paisley Museum, ICOM, and the Liverpool International Slavery Museum team, as well as internally in Curatorial and Extended Management forums. They have also contributed blogs to strengthen the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group’s government recommendations.

These projects and collaborations have all been paid opportunities for the young people. Their ideas have been supported by Glasgow Museums staff by facilitating sessions and meetings with them to develop their work. They have been approached by various internal and external projects to collaborate in.

Not only has Changemakers provided an excellent place for research and creativity, it has also become a safe space for like-minded young people of South Asian heritage to form bonds, friendships and a place to have fun while exploring the museums. The biggest impact, for Glasgow Museums, is this. It is a well known fact that museums are often unsafe spaces for people of colour, and trying to navigate these spaces safely with young people is a challenge in itself. Much time is spent simply talking and ensuring the right people are included in the group to provide pastoral and professional care to them. It is important to acknowledge that for groups of people of colour, facilitators of colour are just as important to encourage and reassure participants.

The legacy of Changemakers is evident in the body of work that they have created and the impact they have made in Glasgow Museums. They have set standards that we hope to see met in future curatorial and collaborative work. The diversity in this group’s heritage, identities and skills has very much contributed to the success of the group, but mostly it is their passion and drive that is clear. It has been wonderful to be able to nourish and support this, as well as watch them advocate for their rights in what can be a very intimidating sector for people of colour.

Being a part of Changemakers has honestly helped me in so many ways. I have much greater confidence in my abilities and in my knowledge of the histories of POC. Having Shahana as a facilitator has been amazing and has really made the group a safe space to talk about being a POC in Museums and much, much more. I really hope other young POC get the chance to be involved in such life changing projects.

Meher Waqas-Saqib, OSCH Changemaker