For World Autism Day we have a fantastic new blog from Amba who is the Community Outreach Officer at the Cartoon Museum. She tells us about her own reasons for wanting to improve access to the London museum and shares the work she is doing with autistic audiences:
Growing up I benefitted from museum outreach programmes, and while I ended up studying Ceramic Design at university, by my final year I realised my interest was really in museum engagement. I’m much more interested in getting other people into museums rather than my own work! I’m lucky that due to my own intersectional existence I’ve naturally surrounded myself with a wonderfully diverse group of friends which means I come at projects with the lens of wanting as many of the people in my life as possible to be able to enjoy it. Hearing the struggles my disabled artist friends have working with and visiting galleries/museums meant that when I graduated I was keen to get a job that would equip me with the skills to be able to support my classmates as they become great artists.
Back in October I found the perfect role. As Community Engagement Officer at the Cartoon Museum my job encompasses a few different areas. Some were specifically referred to in the job description but some are just things that feel right for me. My main focus is the projects we’ve been funded for. We’ve been lucky enough to receive money from two different funders, ‘Foyle Foundation’ and ‘Westminster Brighter Futures Fund’ which means there’s a wide variety of work. One part of the work is continuing the ‘Life Under Lockdown’ project where Steve, our Learning Officer, has been working with groups of children to help them create a comic scrip of their lockdown experiences. Then later in the year I will be starting a wellbeing project and setting up an advisory panel.
But over the last month my main focus has been working on making the museum autism friendly. Steve has been designing new schools workshops designed for SEND schools and local primary schools that have autism resource centres. For the general public we have started ‘Relaxed Mondays’. We’re normally shut on Mondays, but staff still working on site or in our offices around the corner. This means Mondays are the perfect day for us to occasionally open up with reduced numbers.
Our building is a little different, we’re in a converted basement. But this actually means we’re a really safe location. Once you come down the stairs or lift it’s one level. One way in and out, with no chance of getting lost!
I started in November and spent my first few weeks researching relaxed openings at other museums across the globe. If your museum has a relaxed opening I can promise I’ve spent hours on your website, watching videos and taking as many notes as I can. As this is my first role since leaving university I really appreciate hearing from people already working in this area, so a big thank you to everyone who has supported me.
Although this is a new area of focus for the museum all the staff are completely supportive. We’re figuring out the best approaches together and the Foyle Funding means we can do things properly. We’ve been working with an SEN (Special Education Needs) teacher who is supporting Steve in designing the school workshop and the relaxed opening activities, as well as being able to have training from Autism in Museums.
Our first Monday was this week to coincide with Autism Awareness Week. We’re going into this year by trying our best not to panic about getting everything perfect first time. Every day is a learning process.
As well as the Mondays I’m currently implementing sensory backpacks that families can borrow when they visit as well as longer term plans to have accessible interpretation. Going back to my own and friend’s intersections I view accessibility from every angle. For me there’s no point making the Mondays brilliant without also wanting to make every other day of the week inclusive.
I’ve also been working with the museums new ‘Young Cartoonist in Residence’ Jadore. It’s been great to work with him and his school to find the best ways to support his time with us as well as just getting to watch him work. We are collaborating on ideas to make changes to the museum’s interpretation that everyone can benefit from.
We’ve got two more Mondays available to book. After we’ve had the final one we’ll be looking at all the feedback to see what changes we need to make. When we’ve managed to implement the changes that are necessary we will then be rolling out a more consistent Relaxed Opening timetable.
Our next relaxed Monday is the 11th April 2022 so please book if you’re free and please contact us if you have any thoughts, suggestions or questions. We’re a small museum but one with a lot of heart. https://www.cartoonmuseum.org/events/relaxed-mondays
You can find out more about our Young Cartoonist in Residence – Jadore here https://jkcartoonstudios.com/ and on Instagram here – https://www.instagram.com/jk_cartoon_studios/