This was originally published on naeboundaries.moonfruit.com on 25 September 2014.
Tracksuits often carry stigma. ‘Neds’, ‘Chavs’ and general sporting holligans – labels applied by mass media – are often deemed as the wearers of such uniformed garments. The Casual tribe of 80s and 90s Britain propelled this fear into being. Wear a tracksuit into a sports centre, and you’ll be fine. Wear a tracksuit into a nightclub, you’ll be kicked out. Wear a tracksuit into a museum, and you’ll be glared at severely until you leave.
Upon recently attending a lecture about the remits and portfolio of a large cultural body, the speaker refered to his surprise when ‘lads in tracksuits’ came to view an exhibition on a local sports team. The said region in which the cultural body operates has a high percentage (between 37-57%) of citizens who are in low to mid income jobs, or who may rely on state support. So why then is it such a surprise, when the whole aim of this exhibition is to unquestionably attract people who wouldn’t usually step through the doors?
Museums everywhere are currently tackling the issue of social exclusion: particularly attempting to accommodate people from diverse and interesting ethnic backgrounds and groups with additional support needs. But sadly, there seems to be a lack of attention to the eradication of class issues within British society. Those less fortunate than others in terms of education are still sneered at when they ask a perfectly normal question in public institutions. Community groups are rarely given the chance, or funding to visit museums, instead, being sent boxes of items they’ve not been shown how to use; the term ‘outreach’ becoming a non-physical experience which tick the boxes of the annual report. If visitors are simply branded as ‘men in tracksuits’, the only blow is to us – we are surely limiting the potential of the museum to reach out to new visitors in-house. These are debates which are undoubtably circulating board meetings everywhere.
Sports history is a fairly new field for exhibiting; but it’s an exciting one. It’s sparking new interest in museums from groups who are usually lumped with false labels – particularly when it comes to football. September 30th marks a new initiative, National Sporting Heritage Day, where institutions will use their collections and stories to mark the commemoration of World War I. (http://nationalsportingheritageday.co.uk/about/)
I severly hope those glares turn into smiles.
– Graham Webster