Things of the Least

Things of the Least:
lively exhibition-making through the material encounters of under-3s

Things of the Least will create a series of gallery and live public experiences to stimulate the connection between artefacts and everyday life. The project aims to explore how very young children interact with the physical world, allowing children’s priorities to challenge powerful ideas about what’s valuable, who should see it and how it should be seen.

This project is the result of a collaboration between Manchester Art Gallery, ManMet, Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) and Sure Start. It looks at how young children can use their imaginations to animate collections. It addresses the lack of experimentation in exhibition making and curation with under 3, as well as reaching out to audiences who don’t usually interact with galleries, libraries, archives and museums. It also helps families and early childhood communities already working with Manchester Art Gallery to get more involved and brings together museum, early childhood education and art to create new ways to decolonise museology.


The project will be based at Platt Hall, Rusholme, one of Manchester Art Gallery’s sites and will be supported by The Mary Greg Collection, which comprises more than 4,000 objects relating to domestic and childhood life from the early 19th century. The collection’s emphasis is on the small, yet significant activities of daily life, which Ruskin refers to as “treasuring the least of the things“. These objects may appear small and modest, yet they provide a sense of belonging.

10-15 of the chosen objects from the collection will be turn  into prototypes (the Mary Greg Play Kit) by nine artists. These prototypes will be sound or movement pieces, physical items, or digital artefacts that are specifically designed to get children under 3 and their families involved. We will work with families to create a language of sounds, gestures and movements that the children will use as they interact with the prototypes, so that their experiences can be incorporated into the objects and installations.

The families we will be working with are at the core of this project. They bring together established Manchester families from South Asian backgrounds, African backgrounds and white British backgrounds, as well as families who have been displaced from their home countries and are seeking sanctuary in Manchester. This includes families from Afghanistan and Eritrea, as well as Kurdish groups from both Iraq and Iran.

“This represents another step in AHRC’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and to supporting our brilliant and innovative museums and galleries.” AHRC Executive Chair Professor Christopher Smith

This project will look at how the cultures, history, experiences and relocations of family groups are important in relation to the items in the collection, through the gestures and interactions of the youngest family members. We are interested in how we create our own space around us, how things shape our presence in time and space and how we are caught up in the past and present, both locally and across countries. For families living in Manchester, even temporarily, the project will focus on the values, beliefs, and cultural routines around and embodied in the items, toys and clothing they treasure, find or have inherited. It’s a chance to add something meaningful and curious to our Mary Greg collection, reimagining its modern relevance.

Project Team: Rachel Holmes (Manchester Metropolitan University), Becky Shaw (Sheffield Hallam University), Katy McCall (Manchester Art Gallery), Liz Mitchell (Manchester Art Gallery), Christina MacRae (Manchester Metropolitan University), Debbie Keary (Sure Start).
Artists: Jackie Haynes, Becky Shaw, Naomi Kendrick, Josie Flynn, Josephine Hepplewhite, Charlotte Dawson.