Phone box exhibitions

Recently, I saw an item on the news which talked about how phone boxes, which are no longer as in demand as they used to be, are being put to new uses.[1] This included shops and local information posts. But this new life into such a recognisable and much loved part of British life lead me to thinking whether these phone boxes could be utilised in any way by museums. I believe that these little phone boxes have untapped potential for museums and would allow museums to spread out of the museum, draw people to new places and to tell more personal stories.

Red Telephone Box: Image from Wikipedia*. 

Firstly, museums could utilise these phone boxes as an extension of the museum itself and a space to put on exhibitions. Museums are very much situated within one place which, at present, is having issues with engaging people and bringing in visitors. This can be seen in academic studies such as Taylor and also studies such as Museums 20/20.[2] Moreover, within a museum, there is only a finite amount of space in which to present thing and thus personal stories may be left out in favour of a bigger narrative. But the utilisation of phone boxes may help to overturn some of these issues. Museums could put on temporary displays within these phone boxes. These can be part of bigger narratives (almost an extension of an exhibition that is within a museum), or they can focus on more local stories from that village/ postcode, which may get glossed over. Now there are some issues with this, mainly security and conservation. Not being a specially designed case, it would be very difficult to convert these boxes in order to allow curators to control RH and temperature. Moreover, being out in the open, Lux and UV levels will be almost impossible to control. Lastly, being out in the open and not being able to be watched 24/7, there are serious security concerns with leaving any objects within these boxes. Consequently, the displays that are put on within these boxes would probably and realistically be only photographs and text. However, this does not mean a bad display. In fact there are more positives with this kind of exhibition. Firstly is it cheap; not only to install but to also change regularly. Secondly, by being in local communities, it could help to increase local participation within the museum and may encourage more people to visit the actual museum building. Local community groups could be given a 5 month exhibition slot in which to put up a display, creating and curating a narrative that they want to tell. This could be a fantastic way for local migrant groups to tell their story and their experiences thus better educating people about social issues of today. It could also be a brilliant way of telling the story of a community’s past e.g. what happened in that post code during the blitz? Small stories that may get lost as part of bigger narratives but can shine within these small spaces. Consequently and the last pro is the fact that this could engage people who are not usually a museum going audience to get involved (something that present museums are so eager to do). Small displays that have big potential.

But this phone box exhibition idea does not just end at a display. They could be used as part of a larger digital trail to explore the community. These have often been seen with museums such as the National Civil War Museum and give visitors a chance to explore the wider community and its history.[3] These digital trails can bring a community to life, giving information to parts of a town that may not be usually recognised or easily missed. Moreover, with the success of Pokémon go, there seems to be a trend and ground work for this kind of app. Thus there is a foundation for building up an app for a trail using these phone boxes. Now a negative of using an app is that it can be costly and time consuming to make and does rely on people downloading the app and using it. Some may not be comfortably with using this technology and, if it costs, may not want to pay for it. However, despite some technological issues, the civil war app has more positive, 5 star reviews than negative ones.[4] In addition, not only is it good exercise but it also encourages people to explore a local community. Walking round, each post box with their exhibit could be highlighted on the trail and when you visit a post box you earn a stamp. The app could even expand upon the stories told within the post box displays by presenting more intangible aspects such as sounds, videos or just extra information. When you earn all of the stamps then you can visit the local museum and exchange it for a prize such as a certificate or a medal. This is not only a lovely little activity that a family can do as a whole to engage in history and heritage, but even if you do not have children, then it is still a nice activity to do that will attract those who like walking, want to explore and are history lovers.

Now, it would be easy to have tunnel vision and just focus on museums and visitor participation but these type of exhibitions could have a positive impact on the local economy. If these boxes and trails encourage people to visit not only smaller museums but towns and villages that are not necessarily on the beaten track. People could spend more in local museums, cafés, shops etc. which are welcomed in some areas which may want to increase visitor numbers or have been hard hit by the recent recession. Thus these little phone box exhibitions could have some big and beneficial impacts outside of the museum, in the local community in which it sits.

This was just a little, fun idea that I have been pondering but I hope that this may be something that can be further developed in the future!

Thank you for reading!

Bibliography

[1]  BBC News, Second Calling: New Lives for Red Telephone Boxes, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36148287 [accessed 5/3/2017].

[2] For example, M. Taylor, ‘Nonparticipation or different styles of participation? Alternative interpretations from Taking Part’, Cultural Trends, 3, (2016).

Museums Association, Museums 20/20, <http://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums2020/about-museums2020>, [accessed 9/10/2016].

[3] National Civil War Centre, What is the national civil war trail?, < http://nationalcivilwarcentre.com/nationalcivilwartrail/> [accessed 5/3/2017].

[4] Google Play, NCWT, < https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uk.co.omobile.ncwt&hl=en_GB>, [accessed 5/3/2017].

*Wikipedia, Red Telephone Box, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_telephone_box&gt; [accessed 5/3/2017]

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