Audience Development

What do we want - and what have we come to expect - when we visit a museum? Poet Keisha Thompson explored these questions at a special evening event at the Whitworth Gallery.

Copyright Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

I found him suffocating but as I went to clutch it
he pointed to a little sign telling me “Not to Touch It”.
Lucky for him this artist is not a slave to rules,
humanity speaks louder to me than sans serif
so I chose to pull him lose. I said – Eh ya my fellow
Manc, I don’t think it’s your time to go.
He screwed
up his face for a split second, deviated from golden
ratio, his lips quivered from blue to pink as he coughed
up a superiority complex, but still I chose to enquire
as to why he was vex.
I took him into a local café and got him a red bush tea.
With the power of a well-stirred brew he began to tell his story.
Do you know what I really want to do – he said.
I leaned in and endearingly shook my head. 
I want to throw a dinner party, I want to drive through the snow
as though I’m off my head, I want take up yoga and dust off the
tools stored up in my garden shed. I want to open a crèche,
take a selfie with an inflatable donkey, see a five year old
running around a revolving door only to leap through it
to hug a Henry Moore. I want people to stop staring at me
and tell me something new, I want to hear laughter from
empty rooms, I don’t want to navel-gaze into the oblivion
of nostalgia, I want you to pull me from Socrates cave,
put my hand near the flame, break bread at the shore of
collective imagination, I want to play a game. I want
to have more Instagram followers than Ai Wei Wei!
I want to give a present to my 500’000th visitor.
Participant? Friend! I want someone to stand at
my side to look out onto nature, finger-paint
dreams made of surrendered hopes and
cumulus love. I want people to reconnect
with themselves, stand on their doorsteps,
rub their eyes and look at all this stuff.
I want to reach out to new communities,
I want something that I can’t Google,
I want people to feel free but I don’t
think there’s anyone who wants
to come with me.

I gave him a hard look then asked – How do you know?
His in-breath was long and slow as I placed my hand on
his sunken shoulder. If you want me to come with you,
then why don’t you say so?

Keisha Thompson*
This poem was written and performed at The Whitworth on 4 May 2017 at an event which explored questions raised  in the book Made you look Made you stare.  Performance produced by Poet in the City.
Illustration © Stephanie Sandall for FCBStudios.