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.