This is not the end, it’s just the beginning…
Encountering the Unexpected was an experiment into how we could use natural heritage collections in new ways to provide opportunities for older people to live and age well. We found that if museums want to engage older people and work with natural heritage collections in new ways then we need to think very differently.
We developed the Unexpected Encounters Framework which identifies a number of questions and actions to challenge, and disrupt, museum practice. What if museums framed their approach to older people through the concept of rights rather than deficit models of ageing? What if museums looked beyond their comfortable ways of working with older people to develop new approaches and creative partnerships?
What about the exciting possibilities that nature connectedness offers museums with natural heritage collections? It works powerfully as a frame to engage people because it replicates how people engage with nature in the everyday. Whilst specialists are still important to understanding collections, thinking about the relationships that people have with nature can help to shape activities, programmes and conversations, enabling people to get much more out of the experience because they can understand, enjoy and relate to it.
The framework, along with the Unexpected Encounters publication is the first step in a journey towards nurturing living and ageing well in museums. We do not have all the answers but want to provoke dialogue, questions and reflection on what it means to support people in the later stages of their lives to live well, come to terms with the changes taking place in their lives, and challenge the medicalised framing of ageing.
Key to our thinking are the perspectives of older people themselves, which includes artists, creative practitioners and professionals as well as participants in the museum experiments. By valuing personal perspectives and involving them in the conversation, we can begin to realise a future where museums work with people to realise their fullest potential.