This paper provides a short overview of the HLF-funded Pre-Raphaelite Experiment, where Manchester Art Gallery trialled new ways of engaging audiences with historic collections through user-generated interpretation. The year-long programme brought families, community groups, schools and volunteers together to re-evaluate one of the city’s highly valued but potentially insufficiently-understood cultural assets. In a significant departure to the Gallery’s standard approach to interpretation, one room was transformed into an evocative environment designed to focus responses on four key Pre-Raphaelite work in a more collaborative dialogue.
Participants and staff talked about their involvement on an emotional level - staff worked 'with' participants throughout their journey, rather than being passive observers. This level of personal sharing of experience and collective interpretation of the works brought about a real sense of ‘community’ with staff and participants being physically moved by their experience and contributions. The project indicatively developed a real sense of trust between Gallery staff and participants, and brought about a sense of ownership that galleries in general are places ‘for them’.