The Big Gallery 1 Project: Changing Childhood


One of the display cases in ‘Play.’

By Lois Burke

We’ve been a little quiet on the Stories of Childhood blog in recent months as the Museum of Childhood has been undergoing a major redevelopment since October. We’re now open again, and better still, from 1st June we’ll be open every day!

Without giving too much away about the gallery (we want the new space to delight and surprise visitors!) in this post I’d like to share my experience of helping in the redevelopment project. This has been great fun, as well as a learning curve.

The gallery that has been redeveloped is ‘Changing Childhood’, the first space you encounter in the museum. The permanent exhibition takes visitors on a journey through ‘Life’, ‘Learn’ and ‘Play’, which are the 3 major themes that curators Lyn and Susan chose to highlight. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibition through listening and viewing stations, tactile interactives and a dress-up area, as well as engaging with the objects on display. Hopefully visitors will reflect on what childhood means to them, where it ends, and how they think it has changed over time.

Before the building work started and the objects were installed, a lot of planning and collaboration took place. The curators had meetings with gallery designers Studioarc months prior to any construction work. Themes, objects, colour schemes, text panels, and audio/visual elements all had to be agreed beforehand, which meant a thorough process of research and re-drafting. As would be expected of any major project which involves several collaborators, compromises had to be made!

Empty Gallery One 2017 3

The empty gallery, before building work began.

Internship tasks

From my perspective as a PhD intern with the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, I was given the responsibility of curating the audio/visual elements in the new gallery space. This meant that I was tasked with the sourcing of film, photographs and oral histories, liaising with individuals about copyright considerations, and organising the film, photos and voice clips into an engaging narrative about the history of childhood. In the A/V aspect alone we have developed several great partnerships with organisations and individuals around Scotland, to ensure that our depiction of Scottish childhood is as diverse and representative as possible.

This began with me searching the museum’s existing archives for photographs depicting child ‘life.’ I soon discovered that photographs from some eras were thin on the ground, so I put a call out to Edinburgh City Council Staff to submit their childhood photos from the 1970s to the present.

While this was going on, our ‘opening soon’ window vinyls were being put up at the entrance. The de-installation, or decant of the gallery began in earnest too. It was all hands on deck as we carefully packed away the objects that were previously on display, photographing them all for our records and taking notes on their condition. This process was truly fascinating to me – I loved learning about the different shapes that one can make with tissue paper to best support objects in boxes.

lois rupert

Decanting the gallery in October 2017

Back in the office, I continued with my A/V quest. I went to visit The Yard in Edinburgh’s New Town, a support centre for children and young people with disabilities, and accepted their kind offer of photographs from their collection. I also explored the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive in order to create an edited film portraying our three gallery themes. Then I plundered the museum’s oral history archives, to find interesting audio clips that will be played in the gallery. In all, the digital album, video montage, and audio stations that you’ll find in the gallery were all curated by me!

It is so heartening now to see this exciting research culminate in the newly opened gallery. The Museum of Childhood’s collection has been recognised as having national significance, and it truly deserves to be exhibited in the best possible way. Looking ahead to the planned redevelopments of the other galleries, AKA ‘Phase 2’, is an exciting prospect. We hope you will come and visit us soon!


The introductory display in the ‘Changing Childhood’ gallery.



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