Developing archiving and cultural practices for spontaneous memorials

The Manchester Arena bombing on 22 May 2017 tragically resulted in over 139 people injured and 23 people killed.

Tributes in St Ann's Square.
Tributes in St Ann's Square to the victims of the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017. Photograph courtesy of Manchester City Council.

Manchester's community response to the attack was significant - streams of supportive messages were sent via social media, and thousands of donations of support were left in St Ann's Square afterwards.

After an event of such severity, how do large amounts of commemorative donations remain safely and effectively archived?

University of Manchester senior lecturer in museology Dr Kostas Arvanitis came up with the idea of a community-based project. The aim is to archive the material left from May 22 onwards in a methodological and consistent manner.

The project is being carried out in partnership with Manchester Art Gallery, Archives+, Manchester City Council, and Museu d'Historia de Barcelona (MUHBA), and is supported by specialists within their respective fields.

Ensuring we have total comprehension of the correct response to tragic events develops both our students and the community's response rate to spontaneous memorials.

The project has three initial aims:

  • to co-design and manage comprehensive documentation of the items;
  • to allow cultural professionals to critically reflect on the archiving process;
  • to work with state and cultural authorities to develop a 'global community of practice'.

In 2017, Institute for Cultural Practices (ICP) master's students they travelled to MUHBA to collect data, create methodologies and assist in mapping and comparing archived material in preparation for any future spontaneous memorials.

They also worked with Dr Arvanitis and MAG/Archives+ in 2018 for further research.

As a result of the trip, Dr Arvanitis and team members were able to co-design a strategy document for use in possible future spontaneous memorials.

Throughout the early stages of the project, there has been filmed documentation of the earlier stages of the conservation process. The information collected can be used to teach future museology students at the University.

In July 2018, the Manchester Together archive project received a £99,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help document, digitise and make available online more than 10,000 items from the memorial.