Year in Review

2017: A Museums + Heritage Advisor Year in Review

By Adrian Murphy

In many respects 2017 has been a hangover from 2016 with two main news stories: Brexit and Donald Trump affecting museums and heritage attractions both directly and indirectly. Last year the sector was grappling with the fallout from the EU referendum and this year, as Article 50 was triggered, a number of sessions were organised to discuss its consequences.

In January Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States and he immediately sent ripples through the museum world in the US and internationally as he issued a travel ban on certain Middle Eastern countries, which followed worldwide protests against his stance on, among other things, women’s rights.

However, looking through the archives there have been plenty of memorable happenings throughout the sector, aside from Brexit and Trump, including new openings, funding announcements, sector reports and analysis. Here is M+H Advisor’s 2017 Year in Review


Protests against President Trump's travel ban, which also provoked a vociferous reaction from US museums

The New Year opened with Hull wearing its crown as the UK City of Culture 2017, which was celebrated with the city’s Ferens Art Gallery reopening following a £5.2m refurbishment.

There were also two big appointments in the sector with Maria Balshaw being named as the first female director of Tate and Tristram Hunt appointed as the director of the V&A.

In other news, the Museum of London received a £180m boost towards its plans to move to Smithfield Market (which received planning permission in January 2016), London’s Charterhouse opened for the first time in 650 years, the National Trust opened up a design competition to restore the fire-damaged Clandon Park and Kids in Museums launched its Mini Manifesto at its first carnival held at Tate Modern.

Further afield, Advisor picked up the story of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, Poland, which found itself in an uncomfortable wrangle with the ruling Law and Justice party after it decided to take over the running of the museum. We also reported on how museum bodies in the US reacted to newly inaugurated president, Donald Trump’s travel ban on certain Middle Eastern countries. And museum consultant, Nat Edwards continues the Trump theme with his opnion peice on whether it is time for museums to open up more platforms for debate.

In features we opened the year up by looking ahead to some of the most important upcoming projects in both the UK and internationally and also published a report on the benefits of the Museums and Resilient Leadership programme.


In February one of the leading advocates for the sector, John Orna-Ornstein, was appointed by the National Trust to a newly appointed role as its director of curation and experience, relinquishing his role as director of museums at ACE and Peter Keller became director-general of ICOM. Lincoln Cathedral received a £16m HLF grant and Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery avoided local authority cuts of £750k. In Hull a new art gallery opened as part of its year as UK City of Culture.

One of the most popular stories of the month came from the University of Leicester’s Robin Clarke who explained how museums can respond to the rise of the far-right in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president. And the Museum of the Second World War in Poland gets a reprieve from the courts to a government takeover.

On a lighter note, Advisor’s voice of reason, Nat Edwards, writes A Valentine’s Letter to Museums reminding us all of their importance and why he loves them so much.

In features, Advisor published an In Focus report on Workforce Development, an in depth article on how museums react to events such as the international anti-trump protests and a Q&A on retail with Stephen Spencer.


The redeveloped National Army Museum

In March the shortlist for the Museums + Heritage Awards was announced and the Association of Independent Museums opened the third and final round of its Hallmarks Award and also appointed consultants for its Diversifying Museum Visitors project. The National Media Museum changed its name to the National Science and Media Museum. Alva figures are released and the HLF and ACE allocate £20m to the Great Places scheme. The National Trust also opens a new conservation studio in Knole.

Poland’s Museum of the Second World War opens amid a government takeover  and the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts appoints a neuroscientist to enhance visitor experience. Nat Edwards also provides us with an insight on how to present facts in museums to mark the international day of facts organised by the cultural sector (and to allay the prevalence of alt-facts).

In features we cover the reopening of the National Army Museum, the triggering of Article 50 and provide an In Focus report on International Museum Fit-Out.


Derby Silk Mill unveils its £16.4m plans for a new Museum of Making

In April the World Museum in Liverpool opened its new Ancient Egypt gallery, a DCMS Review says that ACE is at a high point in its history, while also listing recommendations for improvement, Derby Silk Mill unveils its £16.4m plans for a Museum of Making and the Burrell Collection secures planning permission for its £66m redevelopment.

The Museums Association publishes a UK-wide survey on the health of museums and in the build up to the Museums + Heritage Show we publish a Q&A with show manager, Sara Bowen. In international news the fate of the Museum of the Second World War in Poland is confirmed as the government takes over the establishment and sacks its director.

In features we record the reopening of the Jorvik Viking Centre in York following flood damage, the redevelopment of Wardown House in Luton and the launch of a £15m masterplan at Ironbridge Gorge.


The 25th Museums + Heritage Show

May saw the Museums + Heritage Show turn 25 as the annual event took place at Olympia in London and included 60 free talks as well as more than 160 suppliers. The winners of the Museums + Heritage Awards were also announced with National Museums Scotland picking up the Permanent Exhibition award for their ten new galleries and the National Trust becoming the recipient of the Special Recognition award.

In features we focus on the roll out of the revolutionary ColliderCase display case technology and how it is transforming how museums showcase their objects.


The new Exhibition Road Quarter at the V&A

We attended the AIM Conference at the Historic Dockyard Chatham and interviewed HLF chief executive, Ros Kerslake who says the demand for funding has never been greater. In the same month AIM also launches a new success guide on planning museum and heritage capital projects and ACE announces National Portfolio funding with an additional £170m investment outside London. We also interview John Orna-Ornstein in his new role as the National Trust’s director of curation and experience.

Dr Diana Owen, CEO of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for the past 10 years, announces that she will be stepping down from the post in early 2018 and the Black Country Living Museum receives £9.8m HLF grant for its ‘new town’.

Nat Edwards takes up the topic of whether museums should remove or cover up controversial displays and links to history.

In features we look at Public Realm in Museums and focus on projects including the V&A’s new Exhibition Road Quarter, Hepworth Wakefield’s plans for a new riverside gallery garden and York Art Gallery’s redevelopment of wasteland into an artists’ garden. We also focus on Collections Management and the National Trust’s LGBTQ season.


The Postal Museum and Rail Mail open in Clerkenwell and we meet up with director Adrian Steel to film the new attraction and discover the importance of the £22m project that covers five centuries of Royal Mail history and also opens up disused rail tunnels for a new public ride.

In other news Hepworth Wakefield is crowned Art Fund Museum of the Year, Dame Helen Ghosh steps down as director general of National Trust and HLF invests £10m in its Kick the Dust project for youngsters. We also announce that the National Museum of Computing wins the Museum + Heritage Show Prize Fund.

In Features we document the return of the incredibly successful VR attraction The Lost Palace from HRP, report on the National Museum of Scotland’s Bonnie Prince Charlie exhibition and the Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution.


Kelvingrove prepares Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross for loan

In August the DCMS announces £15m funding as part of the Great Exhibition of the North and The Partition Museum in Amritsar’s opens on the  70th anniversary of the breaking up of India following independence from the British Empire.

There is sad news in the sector as Martin Roth, former V&A director, dies aged 62 less than a year after he stepped down from the post.

In features we go behind the scenes at Kelvingrove as it prepares to loan out one of its star attractions, Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross.


In septemeber Wellcome announces that it is to plough £13m into UK science centres for public engagement, recipients of ICOM UK – Heritage Without Borders European travel grants are announced and the National Trust launches poignant Prejudice and Pride installation at Kingston Lacy.

Stonehenge tunnel route was announced as part of £1.6bn A303 transport plans and Where Are The Poppies Now? Project was launched by 14-18 NOW. In South Africa a new museum dedicated to contemporary African art (pictured) was in opened in a former Cape Town grain silo.

There was also a big announcement from AIM as its executive director Tamalie Newbery stepped down to become CEO of Brooklands Museum.

In features we publish an In Focus report on Exhibition Design in Museums, which includes Helsinki City Museum, winner of the International Award at the Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence.

We also publish an In Focus feature on Retail in Museums and an in depth reprt on how the Rijksmuseum transformed its ticketing system.


Advisor travelled to Hull to film the UK City of Culture

In October AIM annouces that it will be launching its new Preparing to Prosper booklet at winter events. Kids in Museums’ founder, Dea Birkett announces that she will step down in 2018 and Alistair Hudson is appointed Director of Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth.

The new £19m Aerospace Bristol museum opens with last Concorde as star exhibit and SS Great Britain Trust announces a March launch for its £7.2m national museum, Being Brunel.

Also in October Advisor interviews learning officer Liz Thorpe from the The People’s History Museum, which is crowned Kids in Museums’ Family Friendly Museum 2017 and 14-18 NOW announce the final dates and venues for the hugely popular poppies tour.

In features we publish as case study on how to create a guidebook visitors will want to buy with Cardigan Castle as the focus and we travel to Hull to film the City of Culture 2017 and witness how it is bringing the city together.


Advisor was taken over by Kids in Museums in November

In November we publish a Q&A with AIM’s new director Emma Chaplin who takes over from Tamalie Newbery and share the news that Tim Cooke has been appointed the new director of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

And for the third year running Advisor is taken over by Kids in Museums Takeover Day with children from across the country sending in photos and reports that are then published on the website.

Also in November the government publishes the much-anticipated Mendoza Review examining the English museums sector and its Strategic Review of DCMS-sponsored museums.

Advisor also hosts a free Webinar on GDPR and what you need to know, which is now available here.

We also publish an In Focus feature on Education in Museums, which includes a fascinating case study from The Workers Museum in Copenhagen. This In Focus also features an Advisor video on The National Museum of Computing’s soft openings for children with autism. The museum was the winner of the Museums + Heritage Show Prize Fund of £1,000 and spent the money on equipment to fascilitate the soft openings.


Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's exhibition The Past is Now: Birmingham and the British Empire

In December the V&A announced that its collaborative project the Design Society in China had opened to the public as the country’s first design museum. The Turner Prize winner is announced at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull and The National Trust names its COO, Hilary McGrady, as its new director-general, taking over from Dame Helen Ghosh.

In features we look at home Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is uncovering untold stories as part of a huge redevelopment plan that will transform its gallery space and the stories it tells.

Our In Focus feature is on Lighting in Museums and includes a unique project at the Petrie Museum of Egyptology that not only researches new technology but also implements it in the museum. We also feature an in-depth report on how the recently reopened Tate St Ives won over the community for its plans build an extension.

And that was our whistlestop tour of 2017 and we look forward to bringing you more quality news, features and analysis in 2018!