A chance to check out The Burrell Collection, as the finishing touches were being made to a £68.25 million refurbishment of the museum ahead of its long-awaited reopening to the public next month, certainly met that criteria.
While I strolled through Pollok Country Park as the sun rose over the attraction, there was much to ponder about the gift by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell and the significance of the museum built to house it in the story of Glasgow’s cultural renaissance.
Speaking at the preview of the new-look Burrell, Bridget McConnell, the chief executive of Glasgow Life, which runs the city’s main museums and galleries on behalf of the council, recalled how its opening in 1983 was “the first real self-conscious statement from Glasgow that it was a world city of culture”.
It is certainly remarkable to look back at what followed, including the opening of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in 1985, the hosting of the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 and the city’s game-changing reign as European City of Culture in 1990.
From the turn of the century to Glasgow’s hosting of Commonwealth Games 2014, it seemed as if the city hardly stopped when it came to revamping historic cultural facilities and developing new ones, including the transformation of Kelvingrove, the building of the Riverside Museum, the Armadillo and the Hydro, extensions to the Royal Concert Hall and Theatre Royal, and the ongoing transformation of the Kelvin Hall.
It is easy to see why a serious effort to tackle the long-standing problems with the declining condition of the Burrell inevitably slipped down the priority list.
Yet the city and the Burrell Trustees, who worked closely on the refurbishment, deserve huge credit for the scale of ambition in the vision which emerged, despite the hefty price tag and the need to close the museum for at least four years, which in the end became six due to the impact of the pandemic.
One need only look at the transformative impact of the refurbishments carried out at Kelvingrove, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and Aberdeen Art Gallery after long-overdue projects were ordered. Another signature scheme in the capital will see some of Scotland’s finest art treasures finally secure a fitting home overlooking Princes Street Gardens.
Scotland’s most popular museums and galleries attracted an overall audience in excess of eight million in the year before the pandemic – remarkable evidence of the pulling power of such places in the face of fierce competition from other forms of modern entertainment.
The reopening of the new-look Burrell next month is certainly an opportunity for Glasgow to begin a new chapter of its cultural story, particularly after a troubled few years thanks to Covid, the two Glasgow School of Art fires, and the preventable demise of The Arches venue.
Perhaps most importantly, it will also offer Glasgow and Scotland the chance to look again at the legacy of Sir William Burrell, his enthusiasm for art and how that has been embraced by his home city since his original gift 78 years ago.