Festival of Museums offers wealth of possibilities

Developing sustainability of heritage a must, says Joanne Orr

The Festival of Museums grew out of a desire to raise the profile of Scotlands museums. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
The Festival of Museums grew out of a desire to raise the profile of Scotlands museums. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

YOU might not be surprised to find out that we’re passionate about Scotland’s heritage and culture at Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS). From lighthouses to toys, games to golf clubs, we want to celebrate the unique, educational and wonderful ideas and artefacts that comprise Scotland’s collections.

We co-ordinate the Festival of Museums because we believe it plays a key role in achieving the wider goal of developing a sustainable sector for Scotland. While raising the public profile of museums and galleries across the country, the Festival also provides participating museums with an opportunity to work together to attract new and repeat visitors and supports museums in building their communications, community outreach and fundraising skills.

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Our approach to museums developing events for the Festival of Museums programme encourages them to ensure that their activities are sustainable where possible, through covering running costs in line with effective business planning and best practice. We’ve asked museums to raise funds to help pay for their events, and they’ve responded incredibly well. We offered small grants, ranging from £300 to £1,500, and required recipients to attain a minimum 25 per cent matching fund. Museums can take advantage of this opportunity, perhaps to develop a first-time relationship with a sponsor or to consider and pilot other ways of ensuring events are financially viable. We’ve seen great success with this and after the last Festival 67 per cent of participating museums, including non-grant recipients, reported securing external support for events.

The Festival of Museums also grew out of a desire to raise the profile of Scotland’s museums with as wide a range of people as possible. And we’ve learned that once people visit local museums, they keep going back.

In 2012, we found that 36 per cent of Festival-goers visited the host museum for the first time, while 92 per cent said that their visit had inspired them to visit museums again in the future. Scotland’s heritage and culture are major reasons people choose to visit, and year-round, museums provide educational opportunities for children and students, and play a vital role in preserving local history and communities’ sense of identity.

Ask anyone who has visited one of Scotland’s many museums – there is something for everyone. They are connecting people with local communities, history and one another. From Gairloch to Glasgow and the Western Isles to Wanlockhead, there are educational, inspiring and unusual things going on across the country all year round. The Festival of Museums is a great chance to discover these unique and wonderful places.

Festival of Museums 2014 features the biggest line-up to date. Nearly 100 events take place from 16-18 May, over three days of exciting events in museums and galleries throughout the country.

There are events for all ages, and it will be an educational day out with the kids, or the chance to enjoy some culture on your doorstep.

We’ve also partnered with Culture24’s Museums at Night programme for the weekend, bringing nearly 30 of Scotland’s heritage and culture sites alive in the evening.

This year’s festival includes an exploration of DNA at the Dundee Science Centre, baking cakes in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, First World War re-enactments at the Black Watch Castle & Museum, and many more events throughout the country.

The museums sector in Scotland has been remarkable in its innovative approach to overcoming financial challenges and technological changes.

MGS is committed to developing skills which will build capacity and help to achieve a sustainable future for the museum sector.

The Festival of Museums is a weekend of celebrating the innovation of, and possibilities for, Scotland’s museums and galleries.

• Joanne Orr is CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland www.museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk