P+H: People's Park Exhibition – report
In 2019-20, 2NQ ran a programme of heritage events and activities called People + Heritage with the communities around Finsbury Park, supported by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Haringey Council. The final part of the programme was a major exhibition of heritage pictures and stories in the park and omnline.
A photographic exhibition titled The People’s Park about the history and heritage of Finsbury Park and the surrounding community, with 150 photographs and accompanying stories, was installed in the Hope Picnic and Play area in the centre of the park on 26 August. Arranged over 32 panels printed on weatherproof dibond, the exhibition was installed on 16 secure wooden A-frames with prominent social distancing signs affixed to the sides of the frames. The exhibition was scheduled to remain in place for two months.
A map of the panel locations can be viewed here.
The themes covered by the exhibition covered the history of the park and surrounding area (including the origins of the name of Seven Sisters Road); the trees, flowers, boating lake, buildings and facilities; extraordinary events such as the rampage of Jim the elephant in 1893; protest meetings and local politics; community events; art; sports and leisure; music; the adventure learning and art workshops this year; the park during lockdown and ideas about the future.
In addition to the content displayed on the panels, the 2NQ team created an augmented reality trail around the exhibition which was accessed via a QR code printed on the panels (see p. 61).
This exhibition builds on a smaller photographic display shown in the park as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations in 2019, which comprised some 45 pictures and stories on ten A-frames. The earlier exhibition had drawn a great deal of public and community interest which led to many new sources and stories from local individuals and organisations.
Impact of Coronavirus
It was initially planned that the exhibition would take place in April and May at the conclusion of the People + Heritage Programme.
When lockdown was imposed and it became clear that outdoor public events would not be possible, the 2NQ team, with the support and agreement of the National Lotter Heritage Fund, decided to present it as an online exhibition instead. As other strands also needed to be redesigned causing the programme to be extended, it became possible once again to plan for a physical exhibition in the park – so long as it would comply with Coronavirus regulations and guidance – to mark the end of the now prolonged programme.
The outcome is that People + Heritage is presented both as a physical exhibition in the park, and as an online legacy of the project here.
Installation of the exhibition marked the conclusion of the extended People + Heritage programme and it is our intention to conduct further evaluations during and at the end of the exhibition period, which concludes at the end of October.
Already the exhibition is receiving attention from numerous park visitors, including passers-by, people visiting Finsbury Park Café or the boating lake nearby, and families using the Hope Picnic and Play area. Even with the social distancing measures in place, it is anticipated that between 3,000 and 6,000 people will see the exhibition over the period.
In the short time since installation, the feedback from visitors and stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive, and comments spontaneously received via email and social media include:
“Beautiful exhibition of information and stories about the magical green space of Finsbury Park, thank you @2NQLondon.”
“I visited the exhibition yesterday and was delighted to see our [Conscientious Objectors] booklet featured so nicely. I’ve taken a photo so hope others from our group will also drop by.”
“The exhibition looks great overall. I hope you get plenty of visitors.”
“I recently visited your outside exhibition for the Finsbury Park at 150 anniversary and thought it was fantastic and a really good use of resources considering the significant challenge covid has brought for undertaking community projects.”
“Really looking forward to seeing these with the kids!”
“I was in the park on the weekend and really enjoyed the exhibition boards which are set up near the lake… one of the boards was about ‘Jim the elephant’ – it was a print-out of the story written at the time and I thought it was fantastic.”
Zinedine Laida, a pupil at Stroud Green School, spots a photo of the Adventure Learning session he attended with his class.
This project was conceived in response to the evaluation of our earlier, smaller-scale exhibition in 2019. One of the distinguishing characteristics of projects that tell stories about local heritage – in this case through the medium of a photographic exhibition and accompanying AR experience – is that the content presented is matched or exceeded by that already vested in the visitors. The stories on the boards inspire locals to share their own knowledge and stories. This, directly and indirectly, generated much of the additional content for the enlarged exhibition.
By bringing the exhibition content right up to date (some of the pictures and stories are dated weeks before the exhibition opened), the awareness is reinforced that heritage is not just history: it includes the lived experience of the community in the present time as well.
The spontaneous responses received highlight key benefits of active community heritage projects: increasing social cohesion across boundaries such as ethnicity, faith, gender and age through shared ownership of heritage, and building community engagement.