New Museum Consortium to Drive Creativity, Collaboration and Cultural Awareness in Cornwall

A new consortium will bring together the buildings, collections and stories embodied by seven diverse Cornish museums to drive creativity, collaboration and cultural awareness for residents and visitors alike. Funded by Arts Council England, mc7 is an innovative three-year project to develop a dynamic new model of collective working and programming for these museums.

mc7 will be made up of Bodmin Keep, Falmouth Art Gallery, Museum of Cornish Life, Penlee House, PK Porthcurno, Royal Cornwall Museum and Wheal Martyn. The project will enable funding of £1.86 million over three years from Arts Council England to reach the museums and their users directly with maximum impact.

Each museum represents a different aspect of Cornwall’s rich history and provides a series of unique lenses through which to discover and understand different parts of a distinctive story of Cornish identity. Each museum is at the heart of its own community and has an intimate understanding of the unique priorities and challenges that are faced.

Photo credit, Sam Breeze.

There is a chocolate box glamour of Cornwall as a holiday destination, but this masks serious underlying issues of social deprivation, isolation, and exclusion. Each museum is based in or near a recognised area of deprivation and works to bring local knowledge and insights to its community engagement; this ranges from the work of Wheal Martyn in St Austell and the surrounding clay country, one of the UK’s top 10% most deprived areas, to PK Porthcurno’s tackling of hidden deprivation on coastal fringes caused by low incomes, seasonal employment, high house prices and poor social infrastructure.

Museums are uniquely placed to provide space for people to come together, share stories and be creative. Through partnering to develop an inspiring programme of activities mc7 museums will provide a ‘third place’ beyond home, school, or workplace to reignite our communities and welcome Cornwall’s visitors.

mc7’s programmes will explore relevant subjects to encourage and help people reflect, learn, enjoy, and make sense of the issues in the world around us. Examples for Year 1 include:

  • Bodmin Keep’s exhibition ‘Dealing with Disaster’ highlights the role of Britain’s armed forces in providing humanitarian relief in the UK and abroad. Future exhibitions feature ‘art in conflict’, from commemoration to propaganda and therapy; commemorations of D-Day preparations in Cornwall for the 80th anniversary (2024) and the foundation of the Light Infantry during the Napoleonic wars providing an opportunity to look at historic relations with continental Europe.
  • Falmouth Art Gallery will work with Man Down, a Cornish charity for men’s mental health, to co-curate content responding to a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition and themes of toxic masculinity.
  • Museum of Cornish Life connects its rural community through “Farmers will like it”, exploring new conservation techniques and rekindles our relationship with contemporary farmers. Focussing on the under-represented including women, young people, itinerant labourers, seasonal workers, rural affairs, and biodiversity, it helps us share stories about the people, species and issues that matter to them.
  • Penlee House will build on its record of artist-led workshops with adults experiencing long-term health conditions, creating work for display in the Gallery. In addition to relaunching a programme for Under 5s and working towards a community-sourced exhibition examining themes of coastal erosion and climate change.
  • PK Porthcurno will explore playful interventions with its national award-winning Family Engagement Team. This includes touring to Cornish communities with their newest acquisition, an original 1950s mobile telegraph station bus. A new exhibition with the Mobile Phone Museum and Vodafone UK will celebrate 40 years of mobile technology. Morgy, the Giant Communications Squid, from European artist collective Moradavaga, will continue to occupy the museum gardens, free for all to enjoy!
  • Royal Cornwall Museum will host a major exhibition based on Tracey Williams’ best-selling book ‘Adrift, the curious tale of Lego lost at sea’. Collaborating with Tracey Williams, artist Rob Arnold, and others, the exhibition will explore the archaeology of tides, lessons learned, and action we can take to address the environmental crisis. 
  • Wheal Martyn seeks to reignite pride of place for local communities, reversing engrained negative perceptions of the St Austell clay area and reengaging people with the place they live and the industry that shaped it. This includes developing new partnerships with educational providers and delivering collaborative exhibitions with artists, community groups and education providers.

Each museum offers inclusive volunteering and work experience opportunities, helping young people and the long-term unemployed gain skills and confidence, and supporting people with disabilities. This new partnership will grow connections with schools, colleges and agencies to encourage a more diverse range of people into the cultural sector.

Bodmin Keep: Cornwalls’ Army Museum

Working with children and young people, both in and outside of school will be a priority, with mc7 looking to engage these groups in the potential of creativity in their lives, enabling them to explore their identity and ambitions. Opportunities will be provided for those with social economic challenges, additional needs and neurodiverse visitors who are less likely to have access to heritage spaces and cultural activities which can benefit physical and mental wellbeing. The museums also support reminiscence services, including memory cafes, dementia support groups, and care home outreach.

Annette MacTavish, Director of the Museum of Cornish Life says,

Together as seven museums we are excited about sharing the many stories of Cornwall. We each care for unique and special collections in unique and special places. The support from Arts Council England is significant as it allows us to welcome more people, in new ways, to each of our museums. At the Museum of Cornish Life, the funding will allow us to work with creative partners to bring more young people into the museum and continue to support our wellbeing programmes for all ages.”

Each of the seven museums has sustainability embedded in their engagement; inspiring climate action, promoting environmental literacy and empowering people to live sustainably. This includes fast fashion workshops at Falmouth Art Gallery, community beach cleans at PK Porthcurno, workshops in sustainable living skills at Bodmin Keep-Cornwall’s Army Museum and exploring post mining environmental themes in Wheal Martyn’s education programme.

Some partners have specific environmental programmes such as PK Porthcurno’s award-winning ‘Planet PK’ which embeds environmental awareness in every aspect of the museum’s work. At Falmouth Art Gallery, a young person’s environmental group will move from a focus on creativity to influencing the gallery’s operations and Planet PK Champions provides activities and resources for families to make positive change together. Measures will also be taken to future-proof our historic buildings and reduce carbon impact.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, Arts Council South West says,

“We are thrilled about the future prospects of these seven museums in Cornwall, as they embark on an exciting vision for collaborative programming. This initiative will enrich Cornish communities and visitors and provide a boost to the local economy. From Wheal Martyn’s fascinating clay mine to PK Porthcurno’s dedicated space for global communications, and the unique collections found in Truro, Penzance, Helston, Falmouth and Bodmin – based galleries and museums, each tell a distinct part of Cornwall’s story. We proudly invest in mc7 and eagerly anticipate the outcomes of this renewed partnership, that will beautifully showcase Cornwall’s unique cultural identity for generations to come.”

Julia Twomlow, Creative Director and CEO of PK Porthcurno says,

“mc7 represents an exciting new phase in Cornwall’s long history of collaborative working across the cultural sector. Leadership in our museums is strong and the spirit of mutual support and cooperation is inspiring. We are grateful to Arts Council England for backing this initiative and enabling the mc7 partners to work individually and together to better serve our diverse communities and represent Cornwall’s rich history.”