M Shed

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Things to do


Date of travel

June, 2021

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The “M Shed”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed/ is part of Bristol Museums and although entry is free, pre booking was recommended due to Covid. However, we were also keen to see a temporary exhibition and paid for tickets (£6 discounted for seniors) for the “Vanguard”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed/whats-on/vanguard-bristol-street-art/: Bristol Street Art Exhibition, which had only recently opened. It’s hard to miss the M Shed on the waterfront as there are four huge grey “cranes”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/blog/we-are-painting-the-m-shed-cranes/ outside which are in the process of being repainted.

On arrival at 10.30am, we were advised to take the lift to the second floor and start with the Vanguard. This exhibition tells the story of street art, from anarchist origins in the 1980s and 1990s, through to the explosion of the scene in the early 2000. It was said to be one of the largest collections of original works and memorabilia ever seen in the UK.

We knew very little about the subject but came out much wiser having read and seen lots. Being a Yorkshire girl, I was interested in a reference to Bridlington, which hosted the first ever International Street Art exhibition in May 1987, attended by artists from all over the world. It also explained how spray paints had evolved from very basic, to something much more sophisticated once manufacturers had seen the potential of different nozzles and need for more colours. Just before the end was a surreal exhibition where you stood on a mirrored floor whilst watching brief films projected on the surrounding mirrored walls. It felt very disconcerting, and I trod carefully. The exhibition runs through until 31 October 2021.

We then toured the two floors of the M Shed, which tells the story of the unique city from pre-historic times through to the present day. The first floor was dedicated to “Bristol People”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed/whats-at/bristol-people/, not just famous Bristolians, but local heroes nominated by the public, and “Bristol Life”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed/whats-at/bristol-life/. This included trades that were popular in Bristol and some of its products e.g. pottery, Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry and Fry’s Chocolate. The ground floor was all about “Bristol Places”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed/whats-at/bristol-places/ and around the walls were maps of the various districts within Bristol, and information about what made them individual. We were told it had opened in 2010 with the districts being changed every three years. In the centre was various forms of transport which would have been used over the ages. Hanging down between the floors were mini hot air balloons reflecting Bristol’s famous festival.

There is so much in the M Shed, it was difficult to do it justice in one visit. Unfortunately, because of Covid, the many interactive exhibits were off limits. There are loos on every floor and the ubiquitous gift shop on the ground floor.

The M Shed is also the current home of the Colston statue in its temporary exhibition: “The Colston Statue”:https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed/whats-on/the-colston-statue-what-next/: what next? The statue was pulled down on 7 June 2020 as part of a Black Lives Matter protest following the killing of George Floyd, and some of the placards used in the protest were displayed. The purpose of this controversial statue is to begin a conversation on what should happen to the statue. Later in the afternoon, we went in search of the empty plinth which is near what was Colston Hall, which has now been renamed Bristol Beacon.

Helen Jackson

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