As exhibition designers, we are privileged to see behind the scenes of museum stores, major archives and historic landmarks worldwide. It is the role of Haley Sharpe Design (hsd) to enable our clients to make these unique collections and spaces accessible and engaging to visitors. Our time spent working at Salisbury Cathedral on Magna Carta: Spirit of Justice, Power of Words has certainly been no exception to this.
More often than not, exhibition designers need to master a complex juggling act. For this project, we balanced the learning priorities of the Heritage Lottery Fund, social justice objectives of the Cathedral, display possibilities within the listed historic interiors and, of course, the safe and secure long-term care of Magna Carta within the Chapter House.
Undoubtedly for us, the most significant opportunity for the exhibition was the chance to engage a wider audience, notably of families, young people and local communities. To achieve this goal, we employed a two-fold strategy – widening the narrative of the displays and introducing new forms of exhibition media. Thus the Salisbury-specific aspects of the storyline, such as historic characters Elias of Dereham and William Longespée, have been given greater prominence. Likewise, we sought to enable visitors to think through the global legacy of Magna Carta, particularly what this remarkable Charter means to the social and political landscape today.
In addition to more traditional display components such as graphics and cased objects, we included four new media pieces within the Cloisters. Produced in collaboration with Bournemouth University’s production company, Red Balloon, student animators, film-makers and interactive programmers were actively involved. These display components, including the quirky Magna Carta 1215 historic animation and interactive global legacy touchscreen, have proved particularly popular with visitors.
The display of Magna Carta was always forefront in our minds. We were keen to ensure that visitors had the chance to explore the historical and Salisbury-specific context of the Cathedral’s copy before seeing the document itself. Thus we retained its position at the mid-way point as visitors move round the Chapter House. We were also keen to create a sense of drama with the display. Placing the new taller, more elegant Magna Carta display case in a tented structure achieved this vision whilst having the practical benefit of protecting this sensitive document from sunlight.
The project has been extremely rewarding, and the hsd team are delighted with the response from visitors. We wish the Cathedral every success in this anniversary year and beyond, as the legacy of Magna Carta is unpacked and shared.
Haley Sharpe, Project Consultant