Meet the staff: Amelia Silver, Curating for Change Fellow

Hello, my name is Amelia and I am the Curating for Change Fellow for the Thackray Museum of Medicine. I will be here for 18 months to learn all about being a curator and how museums work from the inside out. I will be looking at disability in the museum, including building on the representation of disabled people in our galleries, and improving access to museum spaces and exhibitions. 

A bit about me. I am originally from Leicester, but I spent a large chunk of my childhood growing up in the south of France. My family moved to a tiny French village when I was 3, bought an old farmhouse to restore, and set up a restaurant and pizzeria in the nearby town of Gaillac. I loved my sheltered upbringing in the countryside, but it was eventually time to return to England. So there I stood at the tender age of 8, a bilingual country girl thrown into a suburban primary school playground wearing a paisley dress, bonnet and Barbie backpack. I was confused by whispers of “what is she wearing?” and “it’s not her fault, she’s from France.” Don’t worry, I quickly learned that Groovy Chick was much cooler than Barbie, and bonnets were a definite no-go. 

My love of history was sparked by my father dragging me to museums, stately homes and heritage centres at weekends. I begrudgingly went, but actually ended up loving it, so thanks dad! I went on to study history at GCSE and A-Level, and eventually did a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology, and I am now studying for an MA in Cultural Heritage Management. 

In 2021, I was diagnosed with a rare eye condition that distorts my vision, and my world came crashing down. I had never seen visually impaired or disabled curators, so I thought that my career was over before it had even started. My goal is to help change the preconception to which I fell victim: that disabled people can’t have ‘normal’ jobs or do ‘normal’ things. It is, after all, our environments that disable us, not our impairments.

In my spare time I really enjoy expressing myself through art, such as embroidery, watercolours, acrylics, and most recently, ceramics. I have always enjoyed art, but since my diagnosis I have had to adapt to new ways of being creative with limited vision. Ceramics have been a great way to do this because a lot of it can be done by touch, and if the end product is a bit wobbly, I can just say that it’s ‘rustic’. 

For me, the representation of disabled people in museums is really important because it shows us what ‘normal’ does and doesn’t look like. Spoiler alert, there is no ‘normal’. Disability is so much more nuanced than we might think it is. Some disabilities are very visible, but others can be invisible (like mine). There is no one-stop solution for increasing representation and access for disabled people in museums. Every disability is different, and everybody’s experience of disability is different, even for those who have the same disability, and we should talk about them. There are so many skills within disabled communities, and just because they are sometimes communicated slightly differently from what is considered ‘normal’, doesn’t mean that they aren’t important, relevant, and meaningful. I am excited to learn from the amazing team at the Thackray, and to be an advocate for disabled people in Leeds.

Here at the Thackray, we want to work with our disabled communities to explore different ways of increasing representation and access in the museum. If you have any stories that you would like to share, or any projects you think we would be interested in, please get in touch at [email protected]