By Daisy Woodward
From the hidden history of Lower Manhattan to Wimbledon’s other past, a growing number of small, vibrant museums are helping communities understand their neighbourhoods’ stories. Daisy Woodward rounds up some of the best hyperlocal museums across the world.
We live in an age of unprecedented information sharing, where complex social, political and cultural topics can be investigated at the touch of a screen. Yet recent years have sparked a renewed interest in an age-old site of learning: the local museum. This is because many such spaces are taking on an increasingly diverse and imaginative approach to storytelling, offering up a hyperlocal perspective on topics such as immigration, colonialism, class and identity, and capturing the attention of a new generation in the process.
According to Sophie Smith Sachdeva, founder of Narrative by Design, a company that helps museums present the stories they tell, this is because local narratives offer a means of “tackling really big subjects in a way that’s manageable,” she tells BBC Culture. “If you’re looking at subjects through the lens of places or people from an area you know well, it immediately makes conceptual and complex conversations less abstract and more engaging.”
For Tina Smith, head of exhibitions at District Six Museum in Cape Town – a space dedicated to the memory of a neighbourhood destroyed during South Africa’s Apartheid – local museums can also play an educational role that schools cannot. By offering immersive experiences “that hold up a mirror”, create space for discussion, and forge a link between the past and the present, she tells BBC Culture, hyperlocal storytelling is both “grounding and always relevant”. Moreover, in the midst of fierce debate over what should and shouldn’t be taught in schools in the US, UK and beyond, such museums have the unique freedom and archive material to do so.