PRECIOUS artefacts from Scotland’s national museums collections are set to be sent overseas in greater number under plans to create a new series of travelling blockbuster exhibitions.
Historical treasures cared for by National Museums Scotland will be regularly going on tour around the world under a new strategy to open access to the 12.4 million objects in its care.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the organisation, said it would be “shifting focus” within the next few years as the final stages of a long-term refurbishment of its main site in Edinburgh is completed.
Star exhibits have only occasionally been allowed to leave the city. However in future major exhibitions launched in Scotland will start to regularly go on tour, including internationally, following the creation of new exhibition spaces and storage facilities in Edinburgh.
The £80 million overhaul of the main National Museum of Scotland building in Edinburgh has allowed thousands more exhibits to go on public display.
Ten new galleries are due to be unveiled in the summer to showcase 3,500 decorative art, design, fashion, science and technology exhibits. Two further galleries, devoted to East Asian and ancient Egyptian collections, are due for completion in 2018.
A major overhaul of the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian is due to be completed in the spring and will see two Second World War hangars become home to new displays.
In addition, NMS recently opened a new £12m collections centre on the city’s waterfront, which has brought together nearly 10m objects for the first time.
Rintoul said that making more of its collections was the “biggest single opportunity” for the organisation in the next few years – both at home and abroad.
He said: “We’ve spent a good part of the last decade doing major new developments at the National Museum and at the Museum of Flight, while in the same timescale we’ve carried out a major project at our collections centre in Granton. With our new galleries opening next year, our whole programme of capital development will be winding down a bit.
“What we’re now able to do with our new stores – with the better access to collections and better knowledge about them – is to switch our focus and have more of an outward face, both across Scotland and internationally. There is far more that we can do with our collections than we have necessarily been doing over the years.”
Museums around Scotland are also set to be benefit greatly from the national collection following the success of two initial touring exhibitions, on the mystery of the Lewis Chessmen and the personal stories of soldiers involved in the First World War.
NMS will be sending around 90 exhibits to a long-awaited new museum expected to open in Stornoway next year.
More than 50 objects have also been transported over the Border for a major new exhibition at the British Museum devoted to the Celts, which NMS has collaborated on and will be going on display at its Edinburgh attraction next year.
Rintoul said: “Over the years to come we are also certainly planning to enhance what we actually do internationally. One thing we will be doing is looking to initiate a programme of exhibitions that tour internationally. There are lots of stories we could tell and lots of things we could do.”
NMS has provided loans for recent international exhibitions on Captain James Cook, ancient Egypt, the Vikings and the evolution of early lighthouses, which have been staged in cities such as Berlin, Copenhagen, Vienna, Paris and New York.
Rintoul added: “We’ve done a number of loans to major institutions over the years. At the moment, we’ve got loans to the Metropolitan Museum in New York for two separate exhibitions, on the Congo and Egypt.
“The shift for us is that, because we’ve been so focused on things at home, we’ve just not had the time and resources on taking exhibitions out around the world. That’s what we’re now exploring. We’re already in discussions in both North America and the Far East about major exhibitions.
“We’re moving on to a new phase of the National Museums service and what it focuses on. We want to seamlessly move from having a huge focus on capital developments to broadening things out across Scotland and around the world.
“The key thing that we’re looking at initially is to plan for exhibitions which would be on at one of our sites and at the same time plan for some of them to tour elsewhere.”