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Narrative space - the changing face of museums and galleries

Conference at University of Leicester to bring together architects, designers, artists and academics

Issued on 29 March 2010

The world-renowned School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester is to hold a major international conference on the theme of ‘narrative space’ on 20th-22nd April, attracting delegates from the worlds of film, drama, literature and design, as well as museums themselves.

One of the keynote speakers will be the film director Peter Greenaway, whose work includes The Draughtsman’s Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts and Drowning by Numbers. Peter Greenaway has also used film techniques to create art installations and physical experiences in space.

The Conference will also provide the occasion for the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Robert Burgess, to formally open the School’s new building, which will be the scene of an exhibition created specially for the conference.

British museums and British designers have played a significant part in the creation of narrative space in museums and galleries, and Museum Studies at Leicester has been undertaking research and training in this area for many years. “The creation of active experiences for visitors is probably one of the most fundamental changes. It has changed museums from passive environments to environments that recognise that audiences come with expectations and want to participate,” said Suzanne MacLeod, Deputy Director of the School of Museum Studies.

The ‘Narrative Space’ Conference follows the immensely successful and influential conference held by the School of Museum Studies in 2004, entitled ‘Creative Space’. “This was really the first in our field to bring together architects, designers, artists and academics across a range of subject areas to reflect on 20 years of rebuilding museums and galleries,” Suzanne MacLeod said.

“It’s six years on now and ‘Narrative Space’ is more ambitious because we have targeted people who are making museums in certain kinds of ways, taking very creative approaches to building museum experiences.

“Partly thanks to Lottery investment, museums and galleries are no longer perceived as just collections of objects in dusty cases. Many museums work hard to create a ‘narrative space’, a seamless weaving of collections and media intended to tell stories of people and places.

“Storytelling is fundamental to the whole idea of interpretation at the current time. It is a fundamental human approach - we learn about ourselves through telling stories. I think museums and galleries are taking a lot from literature and film and recognising that actually they can create more powerful displays if they harness a story.”

Among the speakers are Rachel Morris and Stephen Greenberg, whose company, Metaphor, has produced nationally acclaimed projects including that at Compton Verney in Warwickshire and the First Emperor and the Michelangelo exhibitions at the British Museum.

Peter Higgins from Land Design Studio will also be giving a talk. Land Design Studio has been influential in developing some of the more media-heavy interventions in museums and galleries, with a particular emphasis on digital media.

The international company Haley Sharpe Design, based in Leicester, is working with the School of Museum Studies to mount an exhibition on narrative space for the conference. The School has received funding from the University’s Business Enterprise Office to support the industry-led exhibition.

“The big thing for Museum Studies in terms of the new building is that we have these amazing display areas, with Click Netherfield display cases that we want to use for teaching and research,” Suzanne MacLeod added. “Thanks to this investment in our physical environment, we now have the opportunity to build more and more exhibition experiences into the curriculum for our students and so the opening of the building and the conference together will be a great celebration and an opportunity to say thank you to the University.”

‘Narrative Space’, an international interdisciplinary conference exploring the interpretive potential of architecture, exhibitions and design, will take place at the University of Leicester on 20th-22nd April. More information is available on

Notes to Editors: For more information on this please contact Suzanne MacLeod, School of Museum Studies, tel 0116 252 3759, email


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