To support our members and encourage them to meet within their local Museum Detox networks, we asked Danika Parikh -- previously based at University of Cambridge Museums and now Lecturer in Material Culture at University of Sussex – about her experience of organising a meet-up in Cambridge in January 2023.
MD: Where did you meet? How did you choose a venue?
DP: We met in Cambridge at Pembroke College, followed by a visit to Kettle's Yard and then dinner at a local restaurant. When I organised the social I worked at the University of Cambridge Museums, of which Kettle’s Yard is one. I chose the museum because of the exhibition they were hosting at the time: Paint Like the Swallow Sings Calypso.
MD: What was the date and time of your event? Was it a weekday or weekend? How did you decide this?
DP: January 27, 2023, 2-7pm. It was a Friday. I had a few possible days where Kettle’s Yard was able to host a private group and the curator was free for a tour. In the end I chose a Friday because I hoped it would make it easier for people to attend and stay for the evening.
MD: How many people attended?
DP: 28, I think. We had a few late cancellations.
MD: How did you organise and structure the event? Were there planned activities and/or free time for socialising? Did you need to make any arrangements with institutions or venues in advance?
DP: The event started with a tea hosted by Chris Smith, the Master of Pembroke College. I'm a postdoctoral research associate there, and the Master used to be the UK Culture Secretary. It was under his tenure that many museums in this country were able to start offering free admission, so he has an interest in the arts and a history of improving accessibility in the GLAM sector. This was a fairly informal and unstructured event, with lots of mingling and of course tea and cake.
We then walked up to Kettle's Yard for a private tour of the exhibition with curator Habda Rashid. This was a bit more structured, but we also had a little time to look around the exhibition. Following this, a smaller group went on to dinner at a local restaurant.
All of these arrangements were made in advance including liaising with the college on numbers and catering. For this I checked with all the attendees for dietary requirements. For Kettle’s Yard I had to book the group in and organise the tour with Habda. We were there after hours, so I needed to share attendee numbers and liaise with the front of house staff who kept the place open for us.
For the dinner, I had to find a restaurant that would cater for varied diets and a large group. I booked a table, and because of the size of the group we had to pre-order food which ended up being a bit stressful. I also checked with attendees about access requirements and offered to book taxis for anyone who needed support getting between the venues.
MD: How did you tell people about it? (e.g. Museum Detox list, Museum Detox regional list, other networks)
DP: I shared it on the Museum Detox group list, a local (University of Cambridge Museums) Staff of Colour mailing list, and sent it to a few additional people who were not technically part of Detox but were people of colour interested in/working within the arts and heritage sector.
MD: How did you ‘ticket’ the event? For example Eventbrite, Google Forms or another event management tool?
DP: I used a Google Form that asked for names, host institutions (if any), contact emails, and dietary or access requirements. I then generated a mailing list to bcc everyone and update attendees on details.
MD: What worked well? Were there any particular highlights for those attending?
DP: Just getting people together felt amazing! People seemed to enjoy the tea as well as Habda’s tour at Kettle’s Yard, and the dinner. I got a lot of great feedback about how much fun people had. Having a few different activities may have meant there was something for everyone! Highlights for me were seeing everyone making friends and swapping phone numbers, or walking around the exhibition taking photos of the art. I also think people were happy that Pembroke and Kettle’s Yard had made an effort to be welcoming and were excited to host the groups – that helped people feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. I think organising as much as possible in advance helped a lot.
MD: Do you have any suggestions you would make to others wanting to organise a meet-up?DP: I was really happy to have organised it but it was seriously time-consuming! I had quite a lot of queries via email so the communication workload was much higher than expected. I also had late cancellations and no-shows, and while I was prepared for the former, the latter became a little stressful. One person who had pre-ordered a meal didn’t attend on the day and didn't contact me to cancel, so the restaurant wanted to bill me for it personally.
I loved the feeling of a big group but a smaller group makes it easier to find a dining venue if you’re going to eat as a group. I think it might be helpful to gently remind event attendees that their Museum Detox friends in the network are taking on extra work [to organise the event], so try to make it easy for them.
It felt nice to have the first two activities I'd organised but was possibly too much to add the dinner. I would say to other potential organisers to stick to two activities at most and to allow enough time for socialising. People were a bit tired for the tour (at Kettle’s Yard) because they'd been socialising all afternoon. Also if it's going to be in a gallery, try to get as much seating as possible. By the evening, people were a bit tired of standing.
In general, I really encourage people to go for it - I felt really proud to have played a role in connecting people and building community! If you're able to do something after hours or for a private group in your place of work, that feels really special for the attendees. I would love to host something again in the future.