Swindon Museum & Art Gallery heritage exhibition: research, design and curation

I was commissioned to deliver an Arts Council funded community exhibition on Swindon's Performing Artists 1955-1985 for the town's museum and art gallery. The project centred on historical research and community engagement: I interviewed current and ex performers, many in their 80s, and secured the loan of artefacts precious to them while enjoying many cups of tea and browsing through their photo albums and memories. Project and budget management included arranging loans on time, commissioning a carpenter to build elements of the exhibition, pricing and sourcing print of information boards and other gallery decoration.

I was responsible for everything that went to make the well-attended exhibition: researching information and context, using my local network to find connections the core of the exhibition was the links I found throughout 30 years of amateur performers, from 1950s dance troops to 1980s punk bands. I designed the marketing and, though not part of my remit, I engaged interested groups through social media and designed marketing materials. I am very proud of the work I did and pleased by the response of the public and especially the featured performers. 

"The role also included a significant amount of public engagement with the people of Swindon who helped to form the content of the exhibition. Kate showed considerably strong communication skills in this public engagement role, quickly making links to exploit local knowledge, building goodwill to rally support for the project and keep the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery regularly informed of progress."

Entertaining Swindon exhibition theme and design

Created from old photographs and ephemera the exhibition focused on non-professional performers from 1955 when The Empire Theatre closed to the opening of the Link Centre's arts suite in 1985. A thirty year period that ended thirty years ago. Central to the exhibition, which had the goal of attracting 'people who don't normally visit the museum', were the community connections.


the empire theatre, swindon, museum, exhibition,history

community connections map swindon SM&AG


Entertaining Swindon exhibition launch

All contributors were invited to the launch. For many of the elderly performers the exhibition had the feel of a 'swan song' and my feeling of responsibility to get it right for them grew as I got to know more about their histories.

The exhibition was featured in the local press the week before the launch after I contacted, as was interviewed by local journalist Barry Leighton, who also loaned a Swindon-made album for the exhibition.

Tanwood, Mollie Tanner, Pollyann, SMAG, Swindon, dance,theatre

Mollie Tanner, 'grande dame' of Swindon's entertainers with her daughter Pollyann (who now directs the Tanwood School her mother founded in the 1940s) posing for the press by a display of their tutus.

press photo, July15th 2015,

I was deteremined that the exhibition reflected the 'traditional' type of permormance groups such as the Tanwood School of Dancing as well as the 'alternative' performance such as Rob Stredder's 'Theatre des Bicyclettes'. Pictured here for the press photo call are Rob, Pollyann and Mollie Tanner, my good self, Roger Trayhurn (fromer librarian and co-author of a book on The Empire Theatre) and SM&AG's Community Engagement Officer, Jon Ratcliffe.

Entertaining Swindon exhibition curation

The exhibition included displays of costumes, programmes, posters, music scores and albums, and theatre props. There were costumes for children to try one and a mirror for them to admire themselves, and a blackboard for visitors to write comments and leave feedback. The idea was that SM&AG would regularly photograph the 'feedback blackboard' and post on social media to keep interest going throughout the duration of the exhibition.

interactive exhibition, swindon, museumawards, dancing, Cheltenham cup, Mollie TannerSwindon Brass, SYM, Fran CowleyWestern Players, Swindon, costumes, dramaKentwood Choir, Swindon, exhibition, display, cabinetSALOS, posters, theatre, light opera, operatic

Entertaining Swindon feedback and social media

Feedback and comments board