Because this shift happened in the public eye, the public wanted to know what would happen next, and how the wider museum community viewed the issue. In the UK, four museums with significant holdings decided to work together on co-creation around African collections. These were:
The Horniman Museum
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
The Pitt Rivers Oxford
The World Museum Liverpool
Led by JC, the group began to work collaboratively with community members from the African continent, including Masai people from Kenya and Tanzania.
The planned methodology was to discover how far the narratives about collection items held in these museums matched up with the oral histories of the originating communities. This approach was still relatively rare in the sector: provenance tends to be focused on collectors’ records and material already held in the archives. This project turned that assumption on its head and treated the oral history of those who created the material culture as being of at least equal consequence. Their experiences were likely to offer more insight than those who held the collections but were not experts on the culture which had created them.
With no idea of the huge upheaval due in 2020, the initial plan was for a big summit in June, with African participants alongside 100 diaspora community members – including those working in heritage, creatives, African Caribbean people and especially those local to the Horniman. Many would be meeting in person for the first time.
This meeting felt crucial in drawing together so many people who had insights to bring – and who were becoming part of the circle of influence in discussing these collections for the first time.