Megan Dowsett is a freelance creative consultant working with museums and galleries.

Through the name Norris and the Flamingo, she shares the sense of adventure that runs through all of life, wherever we are on our journey. A sense of imagination, of possibility and discovery, for children and adults alike.

Her core values come down to two simple things:

People: At the heart of everything she does, people are there – be it audiences of any age or background, volunteers, staff or freelancers and apprentices. She believes that the best projects take everybody with them on a learning journey.

Creativity: In every role she’s taken, creativity has played a key priority. Working in Museums and Galleries, creativity brings a valuable opportunity to think about the same things in a different way.

Museums and galleries are the perfect place to bring the joy of discovery and magic of adventure to everyone who passes through the doors - and to invite those who haven't yet braved these sometimes intimidating buildings, to do so in a dynamic and inviting way.

Over twelve years working in these exciting settings, Megan has developed extensive experience in both managing and delivering creative projects that engage with a wide variety of audiences.

31 August 2017

August

August I continue to add colour to my calendar drawings, most month. I'm finding, having always been a little intimidated by colour, I'm learning rather a lot about it!

26 August 2017

Looking back - Family Activities at London Transport Museum

As I approach the end of my second maternity leave, I've made the decision to return to work in a self-employed capacity.  Time to step up the challenge again, reach out to some of the audiences I worked with in the past (was always proud to say I worked with everyone from 0 - 100), and use the significant experience I have in designing and developing programmes with new audiences and cultural spaces.

Musical Magic, 12 August – 4 SeptemberBut before I take the dive, I'd like to take a moment to share some of my favourite moments and achievements from my time as Schools and Families Learning Officer, and later (as the programmes expanded), as Family Learning Officer, at London Transport Museum.  This blog has always focused on the creative projects that I've delivered or written myself, so as I began to manage others to create them, I stopped sharing them here.  But in the first place, the vision was often mine!  And I'm proud and honoured to have worked with some incredibly inspiring (and often patient, as they worked to understand my vision, or fit their ideas into the tight parameters set by myself or the Museum) artists and creative practitioners.

Family Activities. The Street Party, 23 July – 7 AugustPerhaps the most diversely inventive part of my role was to create a family activities programme that was different every holiday, encouraging families to use their annual ticket to return again and again.  Coming from Orleans House Gallery, where we made a fabulous mess every day and worked with slightly more intimate numbers, I initially felt quite limited by the need to spend a small budget in a small space, without sink or washing facilities and with as many as 160 children and their parents a day (every day of the holidays), ensuring that visitors saw and built upon the link with the Museum displays or collections.  How to be creative within those confines?

But it didn't take long for the ideas to start rolling ...

Engineering Achievements
The first summer, amidst re-inventing the schools programme, I wrote the activities myself, each practical activity supported by a story for the younger age group and celebrating 150 years of the London Underground:

February half-term: Underground Explorers- For Tackling Tunnels I brought in sandpits and challenged visitors to use different materials to build a tunnel stable enough to allow a train through - an activity that has been much loved ever since
- Down With It got technical, as visitors built their own small lifts and escalators
- Steamy Science pushed through all my technological inhibitions, as we brought the steam cannon and several other pieces of technical equipment from the schools programme into the learning space

Supporting 'new' Freelancers
In the second year, I decided it was time to hand some projects over to the amazing freelancers who had joined my team as they set out on their career - starting out as support freelancers and delivering pre-written programmes, but who had so much more to offer.  This, I feel, was a brilliant move, as for many of them their particular interest was in encouraging families to look again and differently at the collections - a priority that sometimes takes second place in the face of an artistic idea.  Siobhan Brown challenged visitors to collect ideas and information from around the Museum before bringing it back to the learning space to transform their thoughts into something amazing.

Mr Men
In 2015, I worked with the Mr Men team as they launched the lovely new Mr Men in London from the London Transport Museum.  We delivered Mr Men themed activities through the summer, once again determined to promote visitors' exploration of the Museum collections, achieved through a Mr Men trail, wearing self-made Mr Men head-dresses.  It was a brilliant and new experience for me, working with such a famous external organisation.

Pushing the Creative Boundaries
As time went by, I wanted to vary the creative media we were using within the families programme, and to bring in some specialists.  This was challenging, given my tight budget and large numbers - frequently I couldn't stretch to the ambition of larger companies.  However, there are some pretty amazing people out there!

LTM Family Activities: 25 March – 10 April One such was Hannah Lefeuvre, a dance and early years practitioner, who interpreted a small display in the Museum through the medium of dance.  Her ideas challenged me to change the structure of our sessions, the layout and the way we worked with volunteers and budgets.  LTM Family Activities: 25 March – 10 AprilBut chiefly her creative engagement techniques inspired myself and many of my freelancers beyond measure, not to mention the families who joined the workshops.  Before our eyes, Hannah had parents forming tunnels while children crawled through their legs; torches for children to explore the darkness in air raid shelters; enamel plates and cups, with spoons to tap out 'breakfast music', and everybody wearing high-vis jackets.  The creative high from this experience sent ripples through the Museum, and the positive feedback from families who'd come expecting something entirely different was thrilling.

Another time, I worked with Mmoloki Chrystie to deliver animation workshops inspired by our new All Aboard galleries.  This presented a whole different set of challenges, as the target audience for the technical part was slightly older than our usual audience, in addition to the fact that we needed to reach our usual high numbers, while working in very tiny groups.  But it worked!  Families came along to make their animation 'puppets', before older children entered the 'studio space' in family groups for a 15 minute animation slot.  Mmoloki compiled all these animations into incredible short films.

I also worked with the inspirational Artburst, who came along with a much more 'package' approach and a vast amount of experience with the youngest audience and delivered two weeks of activities for through the summer of 2015.  Again, it was wonderful to have my assumptions challenged, to see the space used differently - and to see a parade of boats (Thames 'Nippers') drifting through the Museum at the end of each day as they followed a fog horn and sang their tune.

Musical Magic, 12 August – 4 SeptemberAnd in 2016, I decided to up the ante with the music side of things.  So I found two musicians, Dan Attfield and Owen Dowsett, and asked them to improvise the transport songs written by our visitors into awe-inspiring melodies and soul-shaking guitar.  Coupled with musician led nursery rhymes for younger children, this activity produced a real high for me as my last activity before maternity leave.  I'll never forget the soulful, late-night lock-in atmsophere at 6pm in the learning space as Dan and Owen delivered the volunteer training before the activities began!

Getting Messy
As I planned the following year, I naturally wanted to work with some of these artists again, but I also wanted to keep pushing the boundaries.  I began to fight the idea that we couldn't do messy activities in our small, dry learning space.  So I decided to bring print-making to the Museum to tie in with our Designology exhibition, celebrating 100 years of magnificent design in London Transport.  Print making without a sink, you say?  But anything is possible!  I challenged Anna Saunders and Gloria Gaspard to develop polystyrene stamps which could be inked with watercolour inkpads and wiped clean with wetwipes.  Credit to these amazing artists, the activities worked a treat.

Nightshift
Illustrations smallI was also itching to create activities myself once again, so I squeezed my time to allow myself to write the story and activities that went alongside the Nightshift exhibition.  IMAG0778aI also found myself illustrating the story taking characters from the Museum collections, which on a personal / professional note was another new venture for me.  Inspired by the opening display in the exhibition, family after family created small parts of large card-mosaic nightbuses, which assembled to make a beautiful fleet.  This took a different approach to many of my activities, in challenging families to use a new skill and look at colours differently.  It was also an opportunity to create an impressive collaborative result, where my priority usually tends towards process and creative thinking.

My final adventure of note also responded to the Nightshift exhibition, as I was keen to find a way to explore the 'glow' of lights and neon that identifies London at night - so much of the work in the exhibition demonstrated the thrill of neon as it entered London's nightlife, that we wanted to replicate it in the Museum.  So after a brainstorm in the office with the ever-energetic Sophie Jordan, we landed on the idea of UV lights and neon-painted rice and pasta, to recreate the tube map. IMG_2927A lovely idea, and the best thing about my job was that at this point I could hand it over, not only to the artist Charlotte Tupper, but to a new apprentice, a new young freelancer and a team of young volunteers with additional needs.  We were all brave indeed.  The process was inspirational, challenging and enormous.  The outcome was something incredible.  Once again, we managed to surprise.

The length of this essay is testament to how much I have loved the creativity, freedom and challenges of my role at London Transport Museum.  I have learnt so much and worked with so many inspiring people, I hope I can take some of this forward into my next adventures, both at London Transport Museum and elsewhere.

Delivery of the family activities at the Museum was only one part of my role - I hope soon to write something of the other things I got up to there ... watch this space!

20 August 2017

Box Art at Printworks London

20170818_131917 I casually agreed to join some friends at a free workshop for children and adults of all ages, working with boxes. And turned up at Printworks London, immediately blown away by the scale and magnificence, both of the venue and the project underway - pretty pleased to have trekked to Surrey Quays with two small children!

Funded in part by a local regeneration project, artist Charlie Evaristo-Boyce had used dozens of boxes to create a city, using a mixture of screenprint and spray paint. The magic of repetition and cityscraper patterns achieved through screenprint on white boxes was lovely.IMG_3590

But part of the project requirement was to invite the community in to contribute to the project, and so here we were, our part of the community comprising three grown ups, two small children and a baby.

Left fairly to our own devices, we decided to draw around the children and let them paint themselves onto a tower, while the other grown ups had a dabble with screen printing. It worked rather well and the children were amazing - this was perhaps Feets' first time painting on a large scale and the attraction of painting herself helped maintain her interest.
IMG_3593For me the key magic of the day was the size of the space and the sheer number of boxes and towers. What a joy it would be to work on such a 'blank canvas'!

The other magic, perhaps not the magic the artists had in mind, was the joy for the children of exploring this box city - of building houses and tunnels out of unused boxes, playing hide and seek - simply being able to work with such a monumental medium was a dream for a groups of pre-schoolers.

Photos thanks to Eleanor Salter-Thorn

16 August 2017

Indian Summer at the Horniman Museum

20170816_144902Feets, Bean and I passed a dreamy day in the Horniman Gardens, and found ourselves in a storytime and workshop themed around the Indian Summer and run by Emergency Exit Arts. We learned to count in Hindi, and to say 'Namaste' (and that one has stuck - we are still greeting each other in Hindi each day), and learnedlearned Indian dance signs for a number of animals, which Feets practises at frequent intervals. And we painted our own many-headed animals with bold paint sticks. A little bit of story, a little bit of dance, a little bit of art. All happy.

12 August 2017

Working side by side ... on postcards

Feets Feets1 Feets and I have struggled a bit lately. After I set her up collaging her pressed flowers with tissue paper and postcards, and she was 'finished' within a minute, I realised that, in the struggle to get jobs done and look after Bean, it's a long time since I've sat with her and made things alongside her. So I took one of the postcards that she'd cut up and spent a happy half hour sticking, and Feets continued onto a second, third and forth postcard, each for a different friend. Watch out, friends! Feets2

5 August 2017

Pani

A corner of the Natural History Gallery at Horniman Museum is devoted to a contemporary interpretation of the Museum collections.  I love this corner very much, though I often have a three year old in tow who drags me past to see the walrus!
For now, there is a beautiful display by Daksha Patel, exploring people's relationship with water.  My attention was caught both by the beauty and the use of materials - she has 'edited' a satellite map of water with illustrative drawings of the creatures that live there and embroidered patterns.  I love this interaction of embroidery (a traditional, meticulous and very hands on, unmechanical craft) with the abstract beauty of satellite photography.
She has also created a series of rustic pots, collapsing the form of the pots to reflect the effects of pollution on the world.