The Museum of Making, recently opened in Derby’s Silk Mill, is perhaps the best-named museum out there. Not because it captures the subject matter or the location of the museum aptly – after all, most museum names do that effortlessly. The ‘ing’ in mak-ing is perfect; I’ve never been in a museum that has felt so alive, so present, so purposeful.
Three things make this museum feel alive: its display of objects, its interpretation strategy, and its community.
There is nothing I despise more in a museum than the monotonous drone of the object-label-object-label-object-label method of display. ‘Stuff,’ in and of itself doesn’t greatly inspire me, but the Museum of Making doesn’t follow this tradition. The Assemblage floor is home to a great mass of objects telling the story of Derby’s industrial history, presented together as a warehouse of ingenuity.
Instead of relying on labels, you search for objects on computers, which then give you a ticket detailing where you can find the object (zone, row, shelf number). Not only does this solve the logistical challenge of labelling a ton of objects, but it also draws you in as a visitor and makes you want to search for things more closely.
But when the museum does provide labels, my word are they good labels. It is a conscious decision made to contextualise Derby’s industrial past, with constant references to the environmental impact of industrialisation and its links to slavery and colonisation.
There is also the relationship with the building itself as a story of the past, and the stories it tells within it in the exhibits. In The Throwing Room, which used to contain machinery for the production in the factory, the exhibits are laid out in the spaces where this machinery used to be. It provides you with a real sense of understanding of how the building operated as a factory, as well as detailing the stories of the exhibits.
But what I really love about the Museum of Making is its sense of really being alive. It has an incredible ability to link the past, present and future. As visitors, we learn stories from the past, but these are made relevant to our present. We can contribute to displays with our memories and thoughts, and there is space for the making of the future. We meet current Makers in Derby, and some of their items are available to purchase. There’s workshop and desk space available to hire. Not only does the Museum tell the story of what has been made, but it also creates a place for what can be made in the future.
Often I find that museums feel ‘set’ in their ways, with objects and labels frozen in time. This is not the case at the Museum of Making. As a visitor, you feel like you have a role to play in interpretation, the space feels active, and the museum feels alive. ‘Making’ is the crucial word here, and I hope we see more museums like it soon.
Museum of Making is free to visit, and is open every day (various times) except Monday. Special exhibitions are ticketed, and visiting currently requires booking a timed ticket on the website. Derby train station is a 15 minute walk away, and is on three of the city’s cycle routes. There is parking nearby, and Derby bus station is only a 10 minute walk. There are lifts available throughout the building making it fully accessible.
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Ellie is a PhD student researching exhibition development and visitor experience at the University of Warwick and the Oxford University of Natural History. A historian by trade, and a massive early modern geek, Ellie’s interests are in the Tudors, the Reformation, gender politics and the monarchy. Ellie can be found on Twitter @ellietheking