because the night belongs to us: How did we get here?

because the night belongs to us: How did we get here?

29 June 2022

Our large-scale summer exhibition, 'because the night belongs to us' recently opened across four galleries. But how did it get here? Co-curators Adam Milford, Senior Engagement and Learning Officer and Tony Davey, Engagement Officer reflect on the steps taken over many years to bring this project to life.

Work began on the community engagement project Plymouth After Dark in 2016, while what would become The Box was closed for redevelopment. We designed the project to work with people across Plymouth to capture memories, collect objects for our collections and commission new work to tell the rich and diverse story of Plymouth after dark.

The earliest inspiration came from projects we’d delivered previously, such as an award-winning 2012 community archive project Pride in Our Past with Plymouth’s LGBTQ+ community, 2013's PRS Foundation-funded series of high profile musical performances for under 5s Adventures in Music, and a 2013 collections review project Stories From The Stores. Learning from these projects allowed us to ask questions about our collections. Can I see myself reflected? What are they missing? How can we do something about it?

Clearly, we can't collect everything, nor should we. It did feel as if some significant activities were missing though. For example, there was very little material about live music, clubbing or youth culture, although we have since discovered some gems in the stores that we are now able to share in this exhibition.

We have committed a significant amount of time and energy to this project over the course of six years (including almost two in national lockdown), however the appetite of local people to engage with their own experiences at night in Plymouth has been wonderful to see, with thousands of people engaging with the project over the years.

Chloe Hughes, Engagement Programmes Manager

Our first major event, 'Sounds of the Sixties', took place in 2017 at the New Continental hotel. Everyone dressed for the occasion in their finest 60s clobber, local historian Chris Robinson gave a great talk on the 1960s in Plymouth and tribute act 'The Revolvers' wowed the crowd with an excellent set. They say if you can remember the 60s you weren’t there – but these photos might jog your memory.

Sounds of the Sixties event, photo by The Conscious Sisters
Sounds of the Sixties event, photo by The Conscious Sisters

Our second major event was also our largest. Teaming up with 'Big Fish Little Fish', we held the first 'Family Rave' in the city, in the University of Plymouth’s Main Hall, with 500 tickets selling out almost immediately for a trip down rave memory lane with Slipmatt, from rave legends SL2.

The most important events for the development of the exhibition have been our community ‘sharing’ events. In 2018, we joined in the fun at a Van Dike Club reunion event at The Guildhall, and the Van Dike 50th Anniversary gig at The Athenaeum. We ran a pub quiz at The Clipper with Nudge Community Builders and supported contemporary art festival, 'The Atlantic Project' with a club night at Vista at The Dome.

These events helped us meet some truly inspirational people who have been integral to the success of the project ever since. Two more recent events have helped us uncover some long hidden treasures, some of which we’ve been able to include in 'because the night belongs to us'. In particular, Exposed at Hanging Gardens (now sadly closed) saw us meet a wide range of people who brought along their precious archives for us to scan, along with a live performance by Crazy Arm. More recently, Bandmates at The Box, led by iMayflower postgraduate students Sam and Ed, allowed us to engage a huge number of local musicians – the result of which can be seen in our Simmons Learning Room display case.

Bandmates event photo by Greenbeanz Photography
Bandmates event photo by Greenbeanz Photography

Our process was greatly helped when we received a 2018 Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant to meet staff connected to Night Fever – Designing Club Culture 1960 – Today at Vitra Design Museum at Weil am Rhein in Germany, and other museums and galleries in nearby Basel, Switzerland. We quickly decided that we wanted to bring in some external support to help us expand our thinking, which eventually led to working with artist Keith Harrison, BBC 6Music DJ and psychotherapist Nemone and The Guardian journalist John Harris.

What a treat to explore the rich history of nightlife in all its guises in Plymouth with the fantastic team behind because the night belongs to us. I’ve loved listening to the many passionate people involved in growing the city’s cultural offerings and who experienced Plymouth’s nightlife; from the early Union Street days and the likes of the Pussycat Club, through The White Rabbit and The Van Dike Club to The Warehouse, Dance Academy, Millennium and beyond. The common themes of community, curiosity, shared experience - the sheer love of congregating together for a favourite band or DJ - made even more poignant coming out of a pandemic, make it feel like the ripples from this exhibition will resonate far beyond the South West.

Nemone, BBC 6Music and consultant for because the night belongs to us

This exhibition would not have been possible without the support, warmth, enthusiasm, care and trust of the incredible communities of Plymouth. Whether gifting their precious objects to our collections, loaning objects for the exhibition, sharing memories in one of over 50 oral history recordings, or by simply spreading the word amongst networks and friendship groups, people are at the very heart of this project.

If you aren’t already a member, do join our Facebook group to find out more about the events and activities that are taking place, and enjoy regular posts relating to the musical heritage of the city.

With thanks to Plymouth City Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and the British Film Institute for the funding support that has enabled this project to happen.