A Mile in My Shoes, the Empathy Museum
I slipped my feet into a pair of size three trainers and went for a walk; black canvas with white laces, a perfect fit. They could have been mine, but they weren’t. They once belonged to a woman just a year younger than me, just an inch taller, the same colour hair and seemingly the same sized feet – but with a radically different story to tell. She utters “how have I let this happen again?” when she finds herself in an abusive relationship, after having been made homeless with her baby a few years previous – I want to tell her to stop blaming herself…
A Mile in My Shoes, a travelling exhibition created and designed by the Empathy Museum and its director Clare Patey, is a moving experience where visitors are invited to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – quite literally. Contained within a human-sized shoebox, this touring exhibit offers a diverse collection of shoes and audio stories that “explore our shared humanity”.
"The stories cover different aspects of life, from loss and grief to hope and love and take the visitor on an empathetic as well as a physical journey." The Empathy Museum
Thankfully, the story I was allocated closed on a more positive note; the narrator ends up as a fully qualified plumber – an accomplishment she would never have foreseen a few years previous.
We were lucky enough to trial this immersive exhibition at our Exhibition Planning Event, hosted by The Workhouse, Southwell, and were also able to glean insight into the processes that Clare Patey implements to create such memorable experiences for the public. Talking to volunteers and members of staff involved in the More Than Oliver Twist project, Clare shared with us a few top tips to help with exhibition development…
The morning spent with Clare and the Mile in My Shoes exhibition set the perfect tone for the afternoon; putting lessons learnt into practice, volunteers participated in three workshops all aiming to coax out equally imaginative ideas for our very own More Than Oliver Twist exhibition. Led by Jan Overfield Shaw (Creative & Community Officer, The Workhouse, Southwell) and Megan Dennis (Curator, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse), the workshops drew out the initial thoughts of our volunteers, considering the obstacles and opportunities, concerns and aspirations of individuals, organisations and the stories we must work with.
An ambitious task, we had hoped that the day’s activities would give us a clear path moving forward - a confirmed format and ingenious concept for the exhibition so that we could begin development. But by the end of the day, it became clear that more work, more time and perhaps more guidance from museum professionals was needed. Despite this, we came away with an incredibly helpful list of clear objectives to work with, which can be consolidated into the following demands…
The exhibition must:
The development of the final exhibition must be a collaborative effort, involving both the Steering Committee and all volunteers that are involved in the project, countrywide. With this in mind, a digital space has now been created where volunteers can submit their ideas on how the final exhibition might take shape.
A month after the event, volunteers have used this breathing space to mull over the exhibition demands list, resulting in some brilliant proposals that we hope to develop further.