Dress to impress: Unveiling a stylish community project in Perth

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There’s a new addition to the collection at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Unveiled last week at an exclusive celebration event, the ‘Perth Community Robe’ now takes pride of place next to an incredible collection of objects revealing stories of East Asian culture from as far back as the 17th century.

Local community groups and school pupils have been working in collaboration with independent artist Jill Skulina and the learning team at Perth Museum and Art Gallery to create the community robe, inspired by the content of a new temporary exhibition showcasing Perth’s permanent East Asian collection as well as object loans from National Museums Scotland. ‘Dress to Impress’ includes a ceremonial costume worn by Korean court officials, Japanese helmets of war and a two hundred-year-old Chinese kingfisher headdress.

The finished community robe
The finished community robe © Perthshire Picture Agency.

The project gave local audiences – many of whom were new to the museum – the opportunity to explore the collections in more detail and provide their own unique creative response to the exhibition through hands-on workshop sessions.  More than 100 people have contributed to the robe through workshops at the museum or through outreach sessions which increased the accessibility of the project. The robe will now be displayed alongside the objects in the wider collection until the exhibition closes in October, and will go on tour itself to the community partners following on from the exhibition closing.

Working on the community robe

Working on the community robe
School pupils working on the community robe.

The community work surrounding the exhibition has shown to have improved participants confidence, knowledge and skills; with many expressing that they would like to come back to the museum in the future and that they enjoyed both their shared and individual experiences in the workshops. One participant commented that they felt like they were “a part of history…included in a great thing!” following on from their workshop experience.

Testimonies from participants and key workers highlight how the project has sparked interests in exploring world cultures, and suggest local community organisations will build upon this interest from their museum experience in their future work. One key-worker explained that throughout their workshop, “learners were highly engaged throughout and motivated to continue, having generated a great deal of interest in the East Asian cultures. We now intend to run a truly cross-curricular project in the coming week, focussing on the culture and history of Japan, Korea and China.”

Barbara Hamilton, Senior Communities Officer at Culture Perth and Kinross said

“The project has given us a great opportunity to learn more about our East Asia collections and use them to inspire a wide range of audiences. We were impressed by the imaginative designs and inspiration used to decorate the robe. Groups from the start were engaged by the subject and keen to add their image to a part of history that will become a permanent addition to the collections of Perth Museum.

The learning team at the museum has gained many skills by working with new and challenging groups, partnerships that will continue long after the project is finished.”

Conor Ellis, Learning and Engagement Officer at National Museums Scotland said

“This community project is a fantastic example of the positive impact museum exhibitions and programme can have on the lives of local people and we’re incredibly grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Museum Association Esmeé Fairbairn Collections Fund for making this work possible.”

Working on the community robe

The community robe
The community robe

The ‘Perth Community Robe’ was produced with the support of a number of local community organisations and schools, including:

  • Perth High School
  • Murray Royal Art Group
  • Perth Creative Community Collaborative
  • Fairview School
  • Perth College Early Year’s Practitioners
  • Care Home Activity Network (Robert Douglas Memorial Home, Muirton Care Home, The Birches)
  • Fife College Creative Arts Learners: HMP YOI Cornton Vale
  • Perth Culture Club Group
  • Perth Autism Support
  • Culture Perth Kinross Volunteers

‘Dress to Impress’ is a temporary exhibition revealing rarely seen examples of traditional dress and accessories from China, Japan and Korea at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, available until the 27 October.

The exhibition is a part of the Ancient Egypt and East Asia National Programme, run in partnership between National Museums Scotland and museum partners from across Scotland, made possible due to the generous funding of the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Museums Association Esmeé Fairbairn Collections Fund.

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