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St Fagans Events visit to Archeon Tastery - September 2015

Staff Exchange date: 
Friday, 25 September, 2015 to Sunday, 27 September, 2015
Traveling to: 
To collect ideas for interpreting historical food in museums.
Finding out where the commercial meets the curatorial in modern museum event programming.

I achieved both my goals by spending time at Archeon with Marc van Hasselt looking at the set up for their Tastery Event on Friday 25/09/15, and attending the event itself for a full day on Saturday 26/09/15.
This event was expecting to generate an audience of between 500-1000 visitors per day (2 day event). This compares to the Food Festival Event at St Fagans, which this year was attended by 18,000 across 2 days in Sept. Both Museums are using these events to drive footfall to the Museum in quieter periods but the scale is different.
Archeon generates revenue by admission price, so attendance finances the event. There was a small commercial element to the event with local food producers selling their wares. I didn’t feel that there was a lot of shopping going on from the visitors I saw on the Saturday. The producers were all part of a competition for a local ‘best product from the region’ award. This was presented on the Saturday morning at the start of the event. The St Fagans Food Festival has a larger commercial marketplace at its heart where traders pay for a stand – this revenue helps to finance the event alongside grant funding to support local trade initiatives
The majority of the budget spend at Archeon would be staff costs – 2-3 costumed interpreters per location with a period specific, food based activity. All food produced was available for people to try. This produced really high quality animation around the site. The St Fagans event has an element of this but we need to do much more to provide a counterpoint to the commercial activity. It is the unique selling point of Food Events at Open Air Museums when compared to the crowded diary of similar festival events that we compete with locally.
The timetable of the event was intended to draw all of the day’s visitors through the process at the same time. This generated a collective experience centred around a celebrity chef led tour through the 3 time periods of the museum. This included a ‘set piece’ gladiator arena show which is part of the museum’s normal daily programme. Activities for the public were mainly tasting, with a small amount of ‘have a go’ i.e. cooking bread on sticks over open fire. Tasting was designed to be challenging and surprising – included items such as mealworm omelettes (using dried mealworms).
I was inspired by the Tastery programme to look at ways to increase the collective experience at St Fagans events – we have traditionally focussed on crowd dispersal around the site due to our much larger visitor numbers. Elements of the ‘set piece’ programming could be incorporated by leading people through the space – my current ambitions include lantern parades for our Halloween and Christmas night-time events.
I was encouraged and impressed by Archeon’s relaxed attitude towards self-led adventurous play with wobbly bridges, rope ferry and dugout canoes. Visitors are encouraged participate in a collective responsibility for risk, with a positive view of benefits of experiential play/learning. This is something I would like to increase and develop for our events at St Fagans as I think it works particularly well with large visitor numbers.

Number of Participants: 
Bernice Parker


Pre-historic bread making at Archeon Tastery...
Drinks from the Middle ages at Archeon...