National Museums Scotland has sites in East Lothian (the National Museum of Flight) and East Kilbride (the National Museum of Rural Life) and in Edinburgh. The flagship National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street remains the most popular museum in the UK outside London, the National War Museum is housed in Edinburgh Castle and the vast collection – over 12 million objects – is stored, conserved and used for research at the National Museums Collection Centre in the north of the capital.
However, the national impact of the work of National Museums Scotland reaches far beyond the capital. A new national strategy launched yesterday by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, shows how this work will be taken forward, taking collections, programming and expertise beyond the walls to deliver social, economic, cultural and educational benefits.
There are all sorts of ways this can be done – nearly all of which involve working in partnership. The most obvious and visible is to present objects from the national collection in museums. This can be individual object loans, such as at Lews Castle museum in Stornoway or for shorter, specific exhibitions.
Another channel which will be greatly expanded is a range of touring exhibitions, which means developing resources to amplify the objects on display: interpretation, graphics, design, text, promotional materials and digital resources.
This approach has worked well over the last year through the First World War display, Next of Kin, currently at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery before continuing to Perth next month and Orkney from February. Inverness is the sixth venue of the tour. Host museums have been able to bring material from their own collections together with the touring component to enrich the displays.
Two Iron Age mirrors from National Museums Scotland and the British Museum are the centrepiece of a display, Reflections on Celts, currently at the McManus in Dundee. Gifts Fit for a Prince will see two remarkable heirlooms, a targe and backsword, displayed in Perth and Inverness ahead of next summer’s exhibition, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.
When research comes to fruition, the results can be brought to life for everyone through exhibitions and displays. Fossils unearthed in the Tweed basin show Scotland’s unique importance in scientific understanding of the development of life on land as we know it today, while research supported by Glenmorangie into early Scottish silver is revealing a picture of silver’s importance in the medieval social structures which underpin the very formation of what we now think of as Scotland. Exhibitions on these subjects will tour from this autumn through next year to venues including Biggar, Montrose and Lewis.
National Museums Scotland has a programme of educational activities for schools and, again, this is national in scope, with visits, outreach, object handling and digital resources. A key example which will be developed further is the science programme Get Energised, in partnership with Scottish Power.
The new national strategy will ensure that National Museums Scotland cements its role and profile as a truly national museum body, sharing Scotland’s collections through loans and travelling exhibitions, engaging and inspiring people through outreach and engagement and strengthening the skills and expertise of the country’s museum sector.
Jilly Burns is head of national and international partnerships at National Museums Scotland.