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Jess Turtle

Our community members say ‘I stay in a hostel, but the museum is my home'


A decade after it launched, the Museum of Homelessness (MoH) is opening its first physical location in a former gatekeeper’s cottage in Finsbury Park, London, with an exhibition titled How to Survive the Apocalypse.

The exhibition is described as an ‘immersive experience drawing on the museum’s front-line action over the course of a decade that has included record levels of homelessness, widening inequality, Brexit, a climate emergency, a pandemic, and a series of ongoing social and political crises.’

Visitors should expect something very different to a traditional museum visit, according to the organisers – there will be no glass cases or labels. Instead objects will be presented via performance, poetry, conversations and object handling.

Launched in 2014 by Jess and Matt Turtle, the MoH is a community-driven social justice museum and outreach charity. Jess Turtle grew up in a grassroots community of homeless people in Cardiff, Wales, set up by her parents following her father’s experience of sleeping rough.

The museum aims to change perceptions of homelessness via artistic events, exhibitions, workshops and campaigns. MoH’s pandemic exhibition, Secret Museum, won Best Temporary Exhibition at the 2022 Museum and Heritage Awards, with the judges describing it as a “project which courageously redefines what exhibitions can be. It is truly ground-breaking and is creative, thoughtful and raw. The judges felt that it paves the way and shows what can be done by being proactive and disruptive.”

The exhibition involved a search for a hidden location (underneath the arches of Waterloo Station), performances where actors narrated stories collected from people who had slept rough during the COVID-19 pandemic and a debrief afterwards. Every show was different – featuring objects presented by the actors, people on bikes, neon pink spray-painted flamingos, tea drinking, bubbles and an impromptu memorial service – and the run was sold out before it opened.

As well as its exhibition and event work, the MoH supports people affected by homelessness though mutual aid, direct action, investigations and campaigning.

Here Jess Turtle tells us about the aims of MoH, why it rejects labels and what it means to have a permanent site at last.

What were your aims when you launched the Museum of Homelessness?
We had the idea in 2014 and our aims were to make a museum where people with experience of homelessness, like myself, could be our authentic selves. We felt that there was a need for a museum created by people experiencing homelessness in order to change perceptions and battle stigma.

We soon realised that telling stories was not enough and around 2017 the community set about making a museum that could take radical action, campaign and run our own investigations into things like deaths of people experiencing homelessness and racism and homelessness.

How did your own backgrounds influence your work with the museum?
Both co-directors have a professional background in arts and heritage. Between us we have worked for the Royal Academy of Arts, the Design Museum and Garden Museum in London. This has helped us shape the museum’s work with the community and we’re not afraid to throw away the rulebook.

I was born into a homeless community in Cardiff and this has given me the personal drive to make the museum happen.

Can you highlight some of the events you’ve run since the MoH launched?
We had our public launch State of the Nation at Tate Modern in 2017. Since then we‘ve run the neuroscience-based exhibition Objectified at Manchester Art Gallery in 2018, Truths of the Last Ten Years in London in 2020 and Secret Museum in London in 2021, which won Temporary exhibition of the Year at the Museum and Heritage Awards. We’ve also put on exhibitions in squats and even outside the Home Office in protest at government policy hatred towards migrants.

What do you see as your biggest achievements so far?
Winning Temporary Exhibition of the Year of course was fabulous for us as a small grassroots museum. We’re also proud to have led the campaigning that ended up with 37,000 people being housed in the lockdown as part of the government’s Everyone In programme.

Our biggest achievement though is having the honour and privilege of working with the community to come up with solutions to society’s problems, gather the resources and make it happen. Our community are creative, tenacious survivors and as survivors, we know how to get through hard times. It’s this that we like to share through our work.

What does it mean to finally have a permanent site?
We’ve been so lucky over the last 10 years to be offered temporary space by our grassroots partners Streets Kitchen and The Outside Project. Together we’ve operated from abandoned fire stations, community centres, shop fronts and on the streets. But it was important for our community to be able to put down roots and really be able to settle in somewhere. As our community members say ‘I stay in this hostel, but the museum is my home.’

What are your plans?
The coming year will see us opening the museum and trial running our first season. Over the longer term we’ll keep developing the museum as a site of healing and justice.

During the summer we’ll welcome the public to site and in the winter months we’ll close down and focus on rapid response emergency work on the streets and in other homelessness settings as well as at the museum.

We’re coming up with new solutions to problems all the time. We’re currently training four members of our crew as trauma informed coaches, so that we can run mental health support on the museum’s site. We also have ideas for setting up a creative campaign collective, running street legal clinics with our colleagues at Streets Kitchen and Liberty and much more. While we do have strategic aims, we’re very much focused on responding to crises in the moment and the museum does whatever the community needs it to.

The Museum of Homelessness: how it works
Jess Turtle, co-founder, Museum of Homelessness / Photo: Museum of Homelessness

• The museum’s first open season will run 24 May - 30 November 2024

• During the open season, How to Survive the Apocalypse will usually run two days per week - Fridays and Saturdays - with three shows a day

• MoH will also have a wider programme during the season. People can expect talks, workshops, and events throughout the open season

• How to Survive the Apocalypse and some of the other public programme will be ticketed. The museum’s cast and crew are all paid at MoH’s flat pay rate which is the UK national average wage for museums (£34,800). Ticket income directly enables people with experience of homelessness to do meaningful, creative work. Any surplus will be put towards the museum’s Emergency Winter Fund which supplies tents, sleeping bags, socks, and other essentials throughout the colder months

• No one will be turned away from an MoH event or show – there will always be at least five free places available for people who can’t afford to buy a ticket

• MoH will not have general drop-in visiting hours for the wider public because the site is geared towards not only producing cultural content but also providing much-needed resources and connection for the community

• Throughout the week they also provide community focused art, gardening, community meals, sexual health drop-ins, legal rights clinics, trauma informed coaching, radical archiving, recovery groups, and much more

The museum will host exhibitions and provide drop in clinics, community gardening and more Credit: Photo: Museum of Homelessness
Credit: Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
Credit: Photo: Museum of Homelessness
The Museum of Homelessness crew inside the new museum space in Finsbury Park, London Credit: Photo: Museum of Homelessness
Secret Museum won Temporary Exhibition of the Year at the 2022 Museum and Heritage Awards Credit: Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
As well as acting as a museum, MoH also provides resources and connection for the community Credit: Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
The Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless Coalition pays tribute to homeless lives lost Credit: Photo: Anthony Luvera
Credit: Photo: Museum of Homelessness
MoH volunteers do outreach work (above) The community garden focuses on healing and recovery Credit: Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2024 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Jess Turtle

People

Jess Turtle


Our community members say ‘I stay in a hostel, but the museum is my home'

The museum will host exhibitions and provide drop in clinics, community gardening and more Photo: Museum of Homelessness
Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
Photo: Museum of Homelessness
The Museum of Homelessness crew inside the new museum space in Finsbury Park, London Photo: Museum of Homelessness
Secret Museum won Temporary Exhibition of the Year at the 2022 Museum and Heritage Awards Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
As well as acting as a museum, MoH also provides resources and connection for the community Photo: Lucinda MacPherson
Husband and wife team Jess and Matt Turtle founded the Museum of Homelessness in 2014 Photo: Anthony Luvera
The Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless Coalition pays tribute to homeless lives lost Photo: Anthony Luvera
Photo: Museum of Homelessness
MoH volunteers do outreach work (above) The community garden focuses on healing and recovery Photo: Lucinda MacPherson

A decade after it launched, the Museum of Homelessness (MoH) is opening its first physical location in a former gatekeeper’s cottage in Finsbury Park, London, with an exhibition titled How to Survive the Apocalypse.

The exhibition is described as an ‘immersive experience drawing on the museum’s front-line action over the course of a decade that has included record levels of homelessness, widening inequality, Brexit, a climate emergency, a pandemic, and a series of ongoing social and political crises.’

Visitors should expect something very different to a traditional museum visit, according to the organisers – there will be no glass cases or labels. Instead objects will be presented via performance, poetry, conversations and object handling.

Launched in 2014 by Jess and Matt Turtle, the MoH is a community-driven social justice museum and outreach charity. Jess Turtle grew up in a grassroots community of homeless people in Cardiff, Wales, set up by her parents following her father’s experience of sleeping rough.

The museum aims to change perceptions of homelessness via artistic events, exhibitions, workshops and campaigns. MoH’s pandemic exhibition, Secret Museum, won Best Temporary Exhibition at the 2022 Museum and Heritage Awards, with the judges describing it as a “project which courageously redefines what exhibitions can be. It is truly ground-breaking and is creative, thoughtful and raw. The judges felt that it paves the way and shows what can be done by being proactive and disruptive.”

The exhibition involved a search for a hidden location (underneath the arches of Waterloo Station), performances where actors narrated stories collected from people who had slept rough during the COVID-19 pandemic and a debrief afterwards. Every show was different – featuring objects presented by the actors, people on bikes, neon pink spray-painted flamingos, tea drinking, bubbles and an impromptu memorial service – and the run was sold out before it opened.

As well as its exhibition and event work, the MoH supports people affected by homelessness though mutual aid, direct action, investigations and campaigning.

Here Jess Turtle tells us about the aims of MoH, why it rejects labels and what it means to have a permanent site at last.

What were your aims when you launched the Museum of Homelessness?
We had the idea in 2014 and our aims were to make a museum where people with experience of homelessness, like myself, could be our authentic selves. We felt that there was a need for a museum created by people experiencing homelessness in order to change perceptions and battle stigma.

We soon realised that telling stories was not enough and around 2017 the community set about making a museum that could take radical action, campaign and run our own investigations into things like deaths of people experiencing homelessness and racism and homelessness.

How did your own backgrounds influence your work with the museum?
Both co-directors have a professional background in arts and heritage. Between us we have worked for the Royal Academy of Arts, the Design Museum and Garden Museum in London. This has helped us shape the museum’s work with the community and we’re not afraid to throw away the rulebook.

I was born into a homeless community in Cardiff and this has given me the personal drive to make the museum happen.

Can you highlight some of the events you’ve run since the MoH launched?
We had our public launch State of the Nation at Tate Modern in 2017. Since then we‘ve run the neuroscience-based exhibition Objectified at Manchester Art Gallery in 2018, Truths of the Last Ten Years in London in 2020 and Secret Museum in London in 2021, which won Temporary exhibition of the Year at the Museum and Heritage Awards. We’ve also put on exhibitions in squats and even outside the Home Office in protest at government policy hatred towards migrants.

What do you see as your biggest achievements so far?
Winning Temporary Exhibition of the Year of course was fabulous for us as a small grassroots museum. We’re also proud to have led the campaigning that ended up with 37,000 people being housed in the lockdown as part of the government’s Everyone In programme.

Our biggest achievement though is having the honour and privilege of working with the community to come up with solutions to society’s problems, gather the resources and make it happen. Our community are creative, tenacious survivors and as survivors, we know how to get through hard times. It’s this that we like to share through our work.

What does it mean to finally have a permanent site?
We’ve been so lucky over the last 10 years to be offered temporary space by our grassroots partners Streets Kitchen and The Outside Project. Together we’ve operated from abandoned fire stations, community centres, shop fronts and on the streets. But it was important for our community to be able to put down roots and really be able to settle in somewhere. As our community members say ‘I stay in this hostel, but the museum is my home.’

What are your plans?
The coming year will see us opening the museum and trial running our first season. Over the longer term we’ll keep developing the museum as a site of healing and justice.

During the summer we’ll welcome the public to site and in the winter months we’ll close down and focus on rapid response emergency work on the streets and in other homelessness settings as well as at the museum.

We’re coming up with new solutions to problems all the time. We’re currently training four members of our crew as trauma informed coaches, so that we can run mental health support on the museum’s site. We also have ideas for setting up a creative campaign collective, running street legal clinics with our colleagues at Streets Kitchen and Liberty and much more. While we do have strategic aims, we’re very much focused on responding to crises in the moment and the museum does whatever the community needs it to.

The Museum of Homelessness: how it works
Jess Turtle, co-founder, Museum of Homelessness / Photo: Museum of Homelessness

• The museum’s first open season will run 24 May - 30 November 2024

• During the open season, How to Survive the Apocalypse will usually run two days per week - Fridays and Saturdays - with three shows a day

• MoH will also have a wider programme during the season. People can expect talks, workshops, and events throughout the open season

• How to Survive the Apocalypse and some of the other public programme will be ticketed. The museum’s cast and crew are all paid at MoH’s flat pay rate which is the UK national average wage for museums (£34,800). Ticket income directly enables people with experience of homelessness to do meaningful, creative work. Any surplus will be put towards the museum’s Emergency Winter Fund which supplies tents, sleeping bags, socks, and other essentials throughout the colder months

• No one will be turned away from an MoH event or show – there will always be at least five free places available for people who can’t afford to buy a ticket

• MoH will not have general drop-in visiting hours for the wider public because the site is geared towards not only producing cultural content but also providing much-needed resources and connection for the community

• Throughout the week they also provide community focused art, gardening, community meals, sexual health drop-ins, legal rights clinics, trauma informed coaching, radical archiving, recovery groups, and much more


Originally published in Attractions Management 2024 issue 2

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