Posted by: henrymcghie | September 10, 2016

Dear Diary- exhibitions, talks and projects

A lot of this week was spent thinking about the exhibitions programme for our expanded temporary exhibitions gallery, due to open in 2020, and how to break that down into components: what success would look like for our various target audiences, how far people will travel to see particular exhibitions (and how to find that out), what the strengths (and weaknesses) of our current exhibitions are and so on. Rachel Webster, Curator of Botany, and I went to National Museums Scotland on Friday to visit the brilliant Celts exhibition, developed in partnership with the British Museum, to see what we could garner that would help with our own redevelopment project.

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Wolf from ‘From the War of Nature’, one of our recent temporary exhibitions (2014)

I also spent a bit of time preparing (or at least thinking about) various talks I’ve got coming up. Next week is the Tyndall Assembly and I’m the pre-dinner speaker, on communicating climate change, and bridging policy/strategy and people’s lived experience. The week after that I’ve got another conference at the University of Reading on Object Lessons and Nature Tables.  My own offering is about how history can be used flexibly in museums, drawing on examples at Manchester Museum (I’ll write more on this after the conference), and how curators, historians of science, artists can and have approached history. This conference follows on from the University Museums Group annual conference, also at Reading, on the subject of partnerships and international working.

We had a planning meeting for a project I’m involved in, ‘Encountering the Unexpected’, with the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester. This is a great project, which explores how natural heritage collections can/could help promote active ageing, by helping people connect with nature. This is very timely, as there’s plenty of movement regarding the recognition of the value of nature for promoting people’s wellness; this is also important for nature, as support for and valuing nature is linked with positive attitudes towards the sustainable use of nature, which is something I’m especially interested in. The project is based around three Exchanges (we’ve already had the first one), then museum partners set up their own experiments/activities to test and evaluate different approaches to using their collections. The project has funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund and runs for the next 18 months.


I spoke with a broadcaster about Belle Vue Zoo, and some of the famous animals that once lived in the zoo but which are now preserved in the Museum. These include Maharajah, an Asian Elephant who walked with his keeper from Edinburgh to Manchester in 1872. A local artist recreated this journey last year, and we had an exhibition of his work around Maharajah’s skeleton this year. Maude, the wonderful and very beautiful Tigon from Belle Vue Zoo, and which we had mounted by a taxidermist last year, is another ‘celebrity’ from the Zoo.

A highlight of the week was a day’s Carbon Literacy training, along with a group of other staff, delivered by our own Carbon Literacy accredited trainers Michael Whitworth and Lynsey Jones. This is part of our commitment towards connecting with climate change activity and action, and all staff are to receive this training. This will enable us to become an accredited Carbon Literate Organisation, and we believe we’ll be the first carbon literate museum in the world. It was really well delivered, showed the enormity of the challenge and the need for action, and then we all looked at how we can be more environmentally sustainable through personal and group action. The timing of this was terrific, as our Climate Control exhibition ended last Sunday (although we’re going to leave up a lot of the materials from the exhibition to promote further action).


Climate Control exhibition (c G Gardiner)- people added black stickers to represent their carbon footprint.


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