2018: A Museums + Heritage Advisor year in review

By Adrian Murphy. Main Image: Matt Collishaw's Thresholds at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that used augmented reality to relive a 19th century photography exhibition

Looking through the Museums + Heritage archives, it’s clear to see that 2018 has brought with it plenty of memorable happenings throughout the sector, including new openings, funding announcements and sector reports as well as analysis and anniversaries.

However, as Brexit casts an uncertain shadow over the nation, there have also been challenges for museums regarding what the future holds in a non-EU UK; there have been protests over funding from oil and arms companies, court cases over funding as well as debates and reports about decolonising collections, how to better explain the origins of objects and museums’ response to climate change.

But throughout all this, it is apparent that the museum and heritage sector has the ability to take on new ideas and criticism, improve accessibility to its spaces and resources, and also better connect and involve the communities in its work.

So, as the year closes it’s time to reflect on these milestones and obstacles in M+H Advisor’s 2018 Year in Review


The year began with Arts Council England appointing a new director of museums, Kate Bellamy, as well as publishing its Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case: A Data Report, 2016-17 and also opening up consultancy for its next ten-year strategy.

The Museums + Heritage Awards made a call for entries as the 1 February deadline approached and the Burrell Collection announced a summer start to its £66m refurbishment.

In features Advisor opened the year up by looking ahead to some of the most important upcoming projects in both the UK and internationally, including the V&A Dundee, which announced that it would open its doors to the public in September.

Our In Focus feature for January was entitled Technology in Museums – introducing new ways to see the cultural world, where we explored the world of VR and AR with interviews with Brendan Ciecko, chief executive of Cuseum that powers mobile apps for museums, and artist Matt Collishaw who has been using VR for his Thresholds experience in museums across the country.

Sarah Dowd, Managing Director at Tricolor Associates also writes an insightful blog on What is resilience?


Entries poured in for the Museums + Heritage Awards and the V&A Dundee announced that its building work had been completed ready for fit-out. The Terracotta Warriors exhibition at World Museum, Liverpool opened and Fatberg went on display at the Museum of London.

Manchester Museum appointed its first female director, Esme Ward, and we published a Q&A with Kids in Museums Executive Director, Alison Bowyer on the organisation becoming an NPO and its future.

The Art Fund called for more investment for collections and The National Museum of Computing announced a crowdfunding campaign to open a new Bombe gallery for the WWII code-breaking machine.

The National Portrait Gallery unveiled plans for a £3.5m transformation and 40 Graduates from low-income backgrounds begin careers with Weston Jerwood bursaries.

February 2018 also marked the month 100 years ago that Representation of the People Act 1918 was given royal assent allowing some of the first votes for women. Advisor’s Women and Power feature focused on the National Trust’s Women and Power: The Struggle for Suffrage programme as well as six other case studies on activities in museums across the country.

Advisor also followed the story of Dippy on Tour in our In Focus feature Transporting Britain’s most famous dinosaur, which explained the huge and detailed task of creating a UK-wide tour of the National History Museum’s Diplodocus.


In March Advisor stepped inside the mind of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, literally, as we explored the new Being Brunel Museum at SS Great Britain in Bristol. We also marked the 7th year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian Civil war with an interview with Gill Webber, executive director of content and programmes at IWM about its poignant Syria: A Conflict Explored exhibition at IWM North.

We also feature environmental charity, Julie’s Bicycle which published its Creative Climate Census focusing on the progress made by the arts sector in the past decade to reducing its carbon footprint and publish a feature on Defining and explaining the visitor offer with Colin Mulberg Consulting.

In news the DCMS publishes its Culture is Digital report to ‘unleash the potential’ of technology. The Museums + Heritage Awards’ shortlist is announced and Alva release its visitor figures report. The V&A Dundee also announces that it has engaged 100k people during pre-opening community outreach projects.


statue of Millicent Fawcett is unveiled in Parliament Square as the 100th anniversary events marking the first votes for women continued. Advisor published a Q&A with Kate Bellamy, Arts Council’s new director of museums and a story about how a report from two universities Mapping the Museum Digital Skills Ecosystem will help to transform the way UK museums use digital technologies to share their collections and engage new audiences with their work.

April was also the month when The Museum of English Rural Life’s ‘Look at this Absolute Unit’ tweet went viral, creating more than 7,000 new followers in the space of a month and building a springboard from which to promote its visitor offer.

AIM continued its sector support role by launching online guides to support museum trustees and boards and Advisor publishes a preview to the Museums + Heritage Show, which would take place the following month.

In features we marked the 250th anniversary of the Circus with an interview with Ringmaster, Dea Birkett, founder and former creative director of Kids in Museums. We also took a look at the RAF Museum’s progress for its new multi-million pound galleries that it would be unveiling later in the year to celebrate 100 years of the RAF.

In our In Focus on Exhibition Design we detail the huge changes at Brooklands Museum with in depth interviews on its new Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed exhibitions.


The winners of the Museums + Heritage Awards are announced and museum professionals, suppliers and specialists attend the M+H Show.

UK Museums Steering group produce the Character Matters Delivery Plan, to focus priorities and resources from April 2018 to March 2020, to deliver on the recommendations from the Character Matters report.

The Burrell Collection embarks on its first exhibitions outside the UK as it continues its refurbishment and its Glasgow neighbour Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum opens a new exhibition celebrating the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh as events take place to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Manchester Museum receives £4m HLF grant towards its major £12.7m Courtyard Project and Kids in Museums launches a new maths resource for museum professionals.

In features we go in depth with Ikon Gallery in Birmingham to discover how it designed its own lighting system, explore Culture24’s continuing work to expand museum lates and get an insight into understanding museum visitors.


Independent museum professionals descend on the British Motor Museum for the AIM Conference with the theme of Changing Gear and one of its initiatives Open Up: Museums for Everyone launches with a website and series of free resources. HLF publishes its pilot scheme to explore Endowment Fundraising and Kids in Museums announces the shortlist for its Family Friendly Museum of the Year.

There is a wealth of new openings in May including the Digital Art Museum in Tokyo, St Albans Museum + Gallery in the city’s former town hall, National Trust unveil a new Magna Carta space at Runnymede and new galleries are completed at Westminster Abbey.

We publish two In Focus features on Digitising Collections and Audio Visual Technology in Museums as well as a feature on how the Yorkshire Sculpture Park honoured the all-female First Aid Nursing Yeomanry as part of 14-18 NOW’s WWI events. We also take time to explore RAF Cosford’s new displays and get tips on masterplanning from Emma Shirtcliffe, Consultant at Tricolor.


In July a House of Lords report calls for a Brexit visa agreement to aid the cultural sector. The report, Brexit: movement of people in the cultural sector, says museums will suffer post-Brexit without reciprocal visa agreements with the EU. And the Design Museum is caught up in an artists’ protest over an event being held in its building by an arms firm. It ends with some artists removing their work from exhibitions.

Tate St Ives is announced as Art Fund – Museum of the Year 2018 and the Art Fund and Headley Trust launch fund to boost curator research.

ICOM UK and the British Council offer museum grants for international projects and ‘uncomfortable truths’ are highlighted in an English Civic Museum Network report.

The 70th anniversary of the NHS is honoured at the University of Manchester with the launch of a digital archive – NHS at 70 and the newly opened St Albans Museum + Gallery launches an exhibition on homelessness.

A successful crowdfunding campaign at The National Museum of Computing sees a new Bombe Gallery open and a the New Museum School is launched offering paid traineeships to early career professionals.

And in features Advisor visits the newly redeveloped RAF Museum to film the £26m transformations.


In August for youth projects is confirmed and nine projects are announced as part of overseas Cultural Protection Fund. The Design Museum reacts to artists removing artwork from its galleries saying it had been ‘targeted by activists’ and the IWM launches a pilot institute on understanding conflict.

Six projects receive a total cash injection of £13m from the Inspiring Science Fund backed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Wellcome Trust including the National Children’s Museum Eureka! in Halifax to open a new site in Merseyside and the Royal Society opens up funding for its Places of Science scheme.

In features we talk to the Science Museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Newby on plans for a new collections management facility at its National Collections Centre in Wiltshire designed with both museum professionals and the public in mind.


The V&A Dundee opened to the public on the banks of the River Tay and Advisor travelled to see the magnificent cultural centre and interview museum professionals and also the 30-year-old leader of Dundee City Council, John Alexander. Bolton Museum unveiled its new Egyptian galleries to much praise and we also featured the new World Gallery at the Horniman Museum and Gardens where we interviewed Nick Merriman, Chief Executive and Tim Corum, Director of Curatorial and Public Engagement.

One of the most chilling stories of the year came from Rio de Janeiro where a devastating fire ripped through the National Museum of Brazil destroying most of its collection. There were also protests at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester over Shell being a major sponsor of elements in the Manchester Science Festival with a 57,000 petition opposing the relationship being handed in.

Arts Council England and the HLF sign a Memorandum of Understanding following recommendations set out in the Mendoza Review and VocalEyes publish its State of Museum Access 2018 report and Museum Access Pledge.

It was also announced in September that the Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Shakespeare’s New Place buildings are to re-created in China.

In Advisor’s In Focus feature we talk to the Mary Rose Museum about its project to preserve Henry VIII’s cannonballs.


Leeds City Museum was chosen as the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum of the Year and the DCMS publishes its post-Mendoza Report Museum Action Plan.

Norwich Castle Museum receives £9.2m HLF grant to create an ‘unforgettable visitor attraction’, the Museums + Heritage Awards 2019 opens for entries and Advisor publishes a Q&A with 2018 Temporary Exhibition winner Salisbury Museum.

The London Transport Museum unveils its new Future Engineers Gallery, the V&A opens its Photography Centre and the Nationalmuseum Stockholm reopens following a five-year redevelopment. In the build up to the Museums Association Conference in Belfast we talk to Paddy Gilmore, Head of Programmes at National Museums Northern Ireland about progress in the country’s museums and the potential impact of Brexit and also publish a feature on the conference that includes interviews with director, Sharon Heal and Hannah Crowdy, Head of Curatorial National Museums Northern Ireland.

Advisor’s In Focus feature for October deals with Emergency Planning Helena Jaeschke, Conservation Development Officer, South West Museum Development Programme provides insight and tips on what museums need to be doing and we also publish a feature on St Fagans completion of its £30m redevelopment project (pictured). The museum was inspired 70 years ago by the Declaration of Human Rights.


Once again Advisor takes part in Kids in Museums Takeover Day where hundreds of children take on roles in museums across the country and this website is populated with their stories for the day.

As museums continue to be put to task over the origins of their collections and how they interpret them in a post-colonial world, Maasai leaders ‘shocked’ at how objects from their homeland are displayed at Pitt Rivers Museum return to engage with the museum to better tell their ‘living story’. And Derby Museums opens its World Collection Gallery that shows its objects from around the globe with labels to show how they were acquired.

We also publish a feature by Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, the cultural programme that has been consistently producing unique and inclusive artworks over the past four years across the UK, including the Poppies tour, to commemorate the First World War centenary.

Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Northern Ireland Museums Council launch a refreshed version of the Museum Accreditation Scheme and the Arts Council England team up with Julie’s Bicycle to publish a report on how the arts and cultural sector is embracing the global challenge of climate change.

And as the deadline for entries gets nearer (1 February) we publish a Getting it Right article to assist with applications to the Museums + Heritage Awards, which includes a filmed interview with chair of the judges and director general of IWM , Diane Lees.

Also in November, the V&A announces plans for its V&A East collections centre and museum and the Royal Society announced the recipient museums that will be offered grants under its Places of Science scheme.

And Advisor’s In Focus feature for November looks at Digital Museum guides with a case study on augmented reality at National Museum Cardiff.


Moving into the final month of the year Advisor publishes a comment piece by the Horniman’s chief executive, Nick Merriman in which he discusses the place of the museum at the heart of the community and how 21st-century museums ‘must look back to the best of the founding impulses of Victorian liberalism; acknowledge and be honest about their problematic colonial history, and re-avow the vital importance of appealing to all and engaging their communities’.

We also quiz Arts Council’s director of museums, Kate Bellamy on the ongoing consultation for its next ten-year strategy (2020-30), which will be published at the end of 2019. The latest online consultaion is open until 2 January.

And that was our whistlestop tour of 2018 and we look forward to bringing you more quality news, features and analysis next year including in early January our projects to look out for in 2019, from both the UK and internationally. 

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!