‘It’s at challenging times like these that stories allow us to escape’ :: NEWS
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‘It’s at challenging times like these that stories allow us to escape’

06 August 2021 Share

The Story Museum presents a new exhibition designed to offer hope in the pandemic through creativity, imagination and play.

As part of its ‘Season of Possibilities’, The Story Museum in Oxford presents The Book of Hopes. This brings to life The Book of Hopes: Words and Pictures to Comfort, Inspire and Entertain Children in Lockdown (Bloomsbury, 2020), an anthology of 133 stories, poems and pictures from leading children’s authors and illustrators.

The book’s editor, bestselling author Katherine Rundell, has guest-curated the exhibition, which transforms the temporary exhibition space The Treasure Chamber into an urban indoor garden.

The exhibition will run until 30th  January 2022.

We spoke to Caroline Jones Director & CEO and Lisa Mitchell, Head of Exhibitions and Collections at the Story Museum.

Tell me more about the exhibition. What does it contain?
(Caroline) We have transformed a temporary Gallery into an urban indoor garden, filled with creative possibilities. There is the ‘Hope Tree’, inspired by the book cover illustration by Axel Scheffler, under which visitors can sit, view the artwork and listen to audio excerpts of stories and poems from the Book of Hopes. There’s a series of colourful sheds – inspired in part by the many writers and artists that work in sheds - where children can explore their own creativity. The Doodle Shed, The Shed of Time and Space, The Shed of New Beginnings and The Shed of Make Believe are filled with interesting objects, art materials, costumes and words which children can use as their starting point to write, draw, play and dream…

What was it like working with Katherine Rundell?

(Caroline) Fantastic! Katherine is not only thoughtful, knowledgeable and wildly creative, she has a generous heart. She allowed us to develop her original concept into new forms, championed the project with her fellow book contributors (and there are over 100 of them – that’s a lot of emails!) and contributed new material of her own.  We are very proud to have her creativity and word-smithery threading through the exhibition and hope she’s pleased with the result.

Where did the idea come from to host this exhibition?
(Caroline) Reading The Book of Hopes aloud with my own children during lockdown last winter felt like bathing in warm sunshine despite the darkness of Covid-19. I knew we needed to find a way to bring this inspirational book to colourful life in our most unusual Museum using our distinctive approach to interpretation and design. Luckily for me, Katherine and Bea Cross at Bloomsbury felt the same way.

What has it been like putting this together under the recent covid restrictions?

(Lisa) Challenging in some respects, as we had to think carefully about how we could create an immersive family- friendly space, very much in the spirit of The Story Museum design ethos, yet could flex to accommodate social distancing protocols. I think we have managed to achieve this by creating a series of discreet spaces, i.e. through the sheds and the garden, that equally knit together as a narrative whole. However, there were many positives too. Being able to bring this book to life at such a critical time and share its messages of hope with our visitors felt like such a great thing to do.   

Do you have a favourite section or area of the exhibition? Why?

(Lisa) That’s difficult! I feel a great deal of affection for all of it. Can I sit on the garden fence(!) and say the feeling the space creates when you walk into it; the bird sounds, the colours…it’s the overall atmosphere…others have said this too, which is marvellous to hear.

How important are both stories and using your imagination for children at the moment, given what they’ve gone through over the past year and a half?

(Lisa) Immensely important, never more so. It’s at challenging times like these that stories and our imagination allow us to escape into flights of fancy, imagine the impossible and hopefully re-connect with ourselves, each other and the world around us.

What would you like the legacy of the exhibition to be for visitors?

(Lisa) Legacy is a big responsibility! I very much hope that be it for a few minutes, half an hour or an hour, visitors are able to lose themselves in their imagination and emerge into the world once more, feeling a little more hopeful and positive about the world.