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SPRI Review 2012: Education and Outreach

Education and Outreach

The Scott centenary provided the impetus for many schools which had not previously visited the Museum to do so. Numbers of school pupils participating in museum visits rose from 2500 in 2010-11 to 3800 in 2011-12. In addition, visits by students engaged in Further or Higher Education rose from 100 to 290 in the same period. Twilight at the Museum, held in February half-term, attracted record numbers, with well over 700 visitors exploring the displays by torchlight. The theme for 2012 was Arctic stories, with a storyteller and film shows to entertain the crowds. Poet Kaddy Benyon, who has been awarded an Arts Council England grant to prepare her new book on the theme of the Snow Queen, worked with museum staff on a series of very successful poetry workshops for children.

Academic staff and research students continued to contribute to Education and Outreach activities. Cool Club, initiated in 2011, made innovative, participatory presentations to primary-school age children on permafrost, atmospheric optics and bathymetry. Public lectures were given by Ian Willis (Who pulled the plug? Who or what is causing dramatic drainage of surface lakes on the Greenland ice sheet?) and Gareth Rees (Are trees invading the Arctic?), as part of the Science Festival, and an all-day outreach activity, ‘science on ice’, was run in the SPRI car park on the same day as the lectures. Here, children could learn about the behaviour of glaciers and how to measure them, how to move across sea ice, and how to measure trees. SPRI continued to develop partnerships with local schools, through the facilitation of a polar-themed ‘thinking skills’ programme and through the development of ‘Snow Lab’, a crowd-sourced project to measure snow cover across Cambridgeshire.

David Pearce and Chris Hill from BAS gave a public lecture on the Lake Ellsworth Mission and Liz Morris (SPRI), Clive Oppenheimer (Geography) and Simon Morley (BAS) took part in a panel discussion on Extreme Science and Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition. On 23 March, at an event organised in collaboration with the South Georgia Heritage Trust, BBC Producer Alistair Fothergill gave an illustrated lecture on the making of The Frozen Planet. Other outreach events included a performance of the love letters of Con and Kathleen Scott on 14 February, a reading of selected letters for Valentine’s Day, presented to a capacity audience by distinguished actors Angela Pleasence and Oliver Cotton.

On 17 January 2012, children from around the world were invited to make a flag for Pole Day, by downloading a Union Flag from the web site to colour in and return to us with a message to commemorate the achievement of Scott and the Polar Party. The resulting flags were planted in front of the Institute and made a wonderful display enjoyed by the many guests who visited during the centenary celebrations. On the following day, Jenny Coverack performed her one-woman play on the life of Kathleen Scott, A Father for My Son, to an audience of over 100, including a number of Scott’s descendants. The artistic events held at SPRI around the centenary concluded on 27 March 2012 with Last Words, an evening of poetry and songs inspired by Captain Scott’s last expedition, at which poet Kiran Millwood Hargrave read from her new collection, Last March, and guitarist and singer-songwriter Jake Wilson performed a song for each member of the Polar Party from his album, All’s Well.

Festival of Ideas activities (24 Oct. to 4 Nov.) included visitor exploration of a trail of polar dreams and nightmares, developed by Dr Shane McCorristine in collaboration with museum staff, and creative activities based on the history of exploring, living and imagining the polar regions. Other Festival events at SPRI included an illustrated talk by Shane McCorristine on the paranormal and irrational aspects of polar exploration, and an extreme sci-fi social evening with a screening of The Thing (1982) and book readings by Dr John Ash. In November and December, the Museum staged The Legacy of Captain Scott, a cultural programme to accompany the special exhibition Robert Falcon Scott: A Century On. Musician Jake Wilson returned to talk and perform songs from his album All’s Well; the Polar Museum’s latest publication, The Last Letters was also launched at this event. Richard Pierce gave a reading from his new novel Dead Men, followed by a talk on using Scott’s last expedition in a fictional context. Dr Max Jones (University of Manchester), talked on the development of Scott’s reputation after 1945 and composer Dr. John Biddulph gave the world premier of Terra Nova, a work inspired by Scott’s expedition, using acoustic, electronic and sampled sounds.

Beyond the Institute, SPRI collections staff worked in collaboration with the City of London Sinfonia (CLS) to create a landmark concert tour entitled Conquering the Antarctic. The tour, which received glowing reviews in the national press, took place in February and March and included five venues (Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cheltenham and Cadogan Hall in London). Under conductor Stephen Layton, the concert retraced the steps of Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in music, images and words. Excerpts from Vaughan Williams’ film score Scott of the Antarctic were interwoven with moving readings from Scott’s diary and Herbert Ponting’s expedition photographs. The programme included the premiere of Cecilia McDowall’s new piece 70 Degrees Below Zero, commissioned by SPRI and the CLS for the centenary, setting music to words by poet Seán Street. Both Cecilia and Seán worked in the archives and used Scott’s own letters as their inspiration.

Heather Lane