This development day was put together to share and learn from some of the excellent Happy Museum project practice around well-being, play, creativity and fun.


Three commissioned museums presented about their projects, two of which had some very jovial external practitioners from non-museum disciplines to enthuse and inspire us. Woodhorn Museum brought along their resident comedian Seymour Mace, and Manchester Museum  got us playing with their play people, Stuart Lester and Charlotte Derry. There was certainly lots of silliness and laughter throughout the day, but there was some serious thinking and learning by the 18 attendees from 6 museums and 3 different academic organisations. Please read on for a summary of some of the highlights from the day.


What did the day aim to do?


    Share some of the experimentation in risky, creative and new happy museum projects

    Provide some practical experience of fun

    Think about meaning of well being and embedding this in our organisations

    Think about measuring what matters and embedding sustainable practices

    Think about what else we should be finding out about and doing, and how to make Happy Museum accessible to the wider sector


What did we do?


In the morning we set the scene for the day and held the case studies: We started with a nonsense challenge  – to draw each other – resting on our heads


“Drawing partner resting paper on our head! – shifts whole dynamic, nonsense of it all, laughter, not totally away from the real world as we sit looking intently at each other – interesting dynamic – subversion of reality as a re-figuring, reworking to make the real world a bit better…”

Alex Woodall, University of Leicester.


Discussing provocative statements about well-being.


Sharing these statements really got attendees thinking about the political, economic and social influences upon the well-being agenda, and what it meant to us and to our institutions. Deliberately provocative, we set the scene for the day. See attachment 3.


“ There is a language dilemma when a language is thrust down – how do you value what you do beyond language? We need to look beyond language to think about these values and issues.  The point of today is about this dialogue”. Stuart Lester, Senior Playwork Lecturer, University of Gloucester


Then came the jokes….during the presentation about ”Stand Up For Woodhorn”


The first case study of the day was presented by Lis Ritson of Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland, and by their Happy Museum funded resident comedian, Seymour Mace. Liz talked brilliantly about their relatively new project Stand up for Woodhorn in which Seymour is working with visitor-facing staff to develop engaging and comedic approaches to working with the public, and with local people to develop material for a performance at the Miners Picnic in 2014. Liz has developed an excellent blog detailing the project to check out the details: For a short summary of Liz’s presentation. See attachment 1 in the FULL REPORT


Seymour Mace followed on from Lis with some activities which he’s used in staff workshops. He made us all do silly things in front of each other using prompts from his bag of joke balls, encouraging us to lose our inhibitions, with the promise; ”What’s the worst thing that can possibly happen – you’ll just look silly – nothing bad is going to happen to you.” And so, we all took a turn and one of us walked like a chicken, another like a wobble wobble, another was a mime artist, another pretended to be a dog weeing up a lampost….. and yes, we did survive it, and it was a good laugh.


Seymour then got us playing a game which showed us that jokes often have no rhyme nor reason and can be created more simply than we imagine – often just by chance – and that being funny isn’t a skill just held by “funny people”. Try this game out with your children, your visitors, your colleagues……: It works in a similar way to consequences, 5 people write a response to the joke headings, fold over the paper to cover their answers, then the next (or 6th) person reads out the joke – in a comedic fashion of course!

The serious benefits of Website summary-1

Powerpoint presentation

Becoming a Playful Museum Project Map



Charlotte Derry, Manchester Museum

 Photo 17-12-2013 12 59 09-1


Photo 17-12-2013 12 58 55-1