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Is It Time for Vegans to Make an Exhibition of Themselves?

By Stephen Balfour

I’m currently working on a project to create a new local history museum in a small town in Scotland. While we will deliver a good quality museum telling lots of interesting stories, several objects are not exactly vegan friendly.

The museum collection includes some wonderful objects including a fully restored life-size statue of Mary Queen of Scots. With the release of the recent film about Mary, the statue has already created a bit of a stir. There are also full restored trades and fraternity banners whose large size makes them real stand out pieces – the pieces of joinery created to house them are the size of cricket scoreboards.

Some of the museum objects however would cause consternation and alarm to vegans, including myself. There used to be a glue factory in the town and the collection includes what is believed to be the skull of the last horse to be killed in the town abattoir. The skull is missing a large fragment of bone which would have been the result of a violent crack of a poleaxe.

The old town tannery is represented by an interactive which includes smells. Children can interact with chemicals which mimic smells such as decaying rotting flesh. At least this interactive doesn’t sanitise the killing process and exposes children to the fact that the slaughter of animals is a disgusting act.

The final non-vegan object is an old hunting notebook where the chief huntsman would keep a diary of their activities and details of which animals they killed. I agree it’s nothing to celebrate and I personally would consign such objects to the rubbish bin rather than include them in a contemporary museum. As Project manager I don’t get to choose the objects or to decide which stories should be told, my primary remit is to just ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget.

It’s got me thinking however. Why don’t we have a permanent or at the very least, a very good quality temporary exhibition on the history of veganism, from its inception to what its like to be vegan today? There can’t be many gaps in the vegan ‘market’ left to fill, but to my knowledge there has never been a ‘proper’ vegan exhibition in the UK. I know in the original Vegfest events there was an attempt at doing a small exhibition but without being overly critical it looked a bit cheap and amateur looking.

Surely, it’s time we had a professionally curated exhibition covering the history of veganism both in the UK and worldwide? It screams ‘crowdfundable’ to me.

I’ve looked for other examples of vegan exhibitions worldwide and the best I could come up with was the National Vegetarian Museum (NVA) in the USA. The NVA comprises of a modest display, made up of a dozen seven-foot-by-three-foot panels with archival materials and a small video installation that traces plant-based eating through the ages. The exhibition takes up temporary residence within libraries in and around Chicago.

I’m convinced we could deliver a more ambitious vegan exhibition in the UK. Organisations such as The Vegan Society must have archival material, vintage posters, marketing material and clothing. We could capture oral history interviews, create pieces of animation and video. School groups could be encouraged to participate in drama, singer-songwriter, co-curation on community display cases exploring what it means to be vegan. Inter-generational reminiscence projects could capture how the perception of vegans and veganism has evolved over time. I know how powerful and engaging that all the different elements can be, as they are core elements of my current project.

So, what do you think? Do you think we should have an exhibition on veganism, would you support it? Go on, you know you want to.

Stephen lives in Fife and is happy to collaborate on any vegan projects. He can be contacted at stephenbalfour@yahoo.co.uk or via the usual social media channels.

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