August 5, 2015; The Guardian
NPQ reported last week that a London community was in an uproar over the misrepresentation of a museum. Meant to be centered on women’s history, the museum turned out to actually focus on 19th-century serial killer Jack the Ripper. Instead of excitement, the Jack the Ripper Museum’s opening this past Tuesday was met with protests. Once again, as another breakdown of communication between private organizations and the communities they are trying to serve occurs, one wonders what role the museum is actually playing.
Along with the community, now the architect at the helm of the design of the museum, Andrew Waugh, is also coming forward to say he was “duped” into designing the building that was originally billed as a women’s history museum.
Waugh says he would not have been associated with the project had he known his designs would include exhibits like a recreation of one of the 1888 crime scenes, which are expected to be part of the museum.
“It is salacious, misogynist rubbish,” Waugh told Building Design, which reports from the UK on architectural news and issues. “The local community was duped, we were duped. They came to us and said they had no money but that this is a real heartfelt project. It is incredibly important to celebrate women in politics in the East End. We really ran with it. We did it at a bargain-basement fee, at cost price because we thought it was a great thing to do.”
The creator and founder of the museum, former Google head of diversity Mark Palmer-Edgcumbe, had originally planned to launch the museum with a focus on women’s history. He changed those plans, though, in pursuit of his deep personal interest in the story of the Ripper and his victims, which he thought would draw more visitors.
The change has been met with anger by East End residents, including Julian Cole, a filmmaker who lives nearby. “I don’t in principle object to a Jack the Ripper museum. Jack the Ripper is a big tourist attraction, as the walking tours demonstrate. Anything that draws tourists east of the Tower of London to where I live is not a bad thing at all,” said Cole. “It’s good for local businesses and the local economy. But we’ve been deprived the opportunity to engage in any realistic consultation.”
It’s not just residents or employees who are hitting back at the museum. The museum’s website has removed the name of a nonprofit with which it was supposedly partnered. Eaves, a UK charity addressing violence against women, took to its Twitter account to dispel any notion that they were working with the museum.
Thank you all who have alerted us to Jack The Ripper Museum claims that they’re donating to us. We have never been approached or donated to.
— Eaves Charity (@EavesCharity) July 30, 2015
An Eaves spokesperson told the Guardian:
“The first we were made aware of this was when we were contacted by our supporters. We join all those in expressing concern that a museum which had been billed as celebrating and recognizing women of the East End has now become a museum about Jack the Ripper.
“As a charity with a long history of supporting women survivors of violence we are unhappy with the way in which the museum has used our name without permission.”
The East End community and its supporters do take pride in the area’s history. As Waugh told Building Design, “The one thing that does irk me particularly is that Cable Street is a very important street for East London. It’s the place of the anti-fascist march. It’s the reality of the East End beating down the Nazis on the streets of London before the war, and it’s such an important part of London’s social history, and so pertinent to current and politics. To ridicule it in this way leaves me speechless. It is a very good illustration of how the planning system needs to be tightened up. In other countries, when an architect gains consent, the architect is retained to build the building.”
As mentioned in our earlier coverage, opponents of the museum voiced concern that Edgcome deliberately misled the town council in order to hide his alternations. Whatever Edgcome’s intentions, one thing that is clear from the reactions is that the community had not been informed.
Without considering the community’s reaction or even bringing the community into the conversation to change the design, the museum finds itself at odds with the population it is trying to honor and serve. But neither is the museum winning any fans online or internationally. Without a supportive base, it’s difficult to determine what future, if any, the museum is likely to have.—Shafaq Hasan