How Finland and Norway have copied Scotland’s way of preserving heritage – Fiona Hyslop

Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop
Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop
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At the start of devolution in 1999, we had the opportunity to independently shape a cultural policy for Scotland for the first time, writes Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

The Scottish Government remains committed to promoting and celebrating Scottish culture and heritage around the world, inspiring increased public participation, sharing of knowledge and enhanced wellbeing.

On this International Museums Day, we should celebrate the value of Scotland’s museums. Our cultural property and heritage are an important asset, and a key area of our culture sector, playing a pivotal role in helping to maintain and develop cultural connectivity across the globe.

The sector is highly regarded locally, nationally and internationally and as tourism continues to grow globally, the sector is increasingly recognised as a major economic driver. Recent statistics indicate 61 per cent of all UK visitors and 63 per cent of international visitors attend a museum, art gallery or heritage centre.

For the second year in a row, the most visited attractions in the UK outside of London were based in Scotland. The National Museum of Scotland continues to be the most visited attraction outside of London, with Edinburgh Castle a close second.

The city of Dundee has benefitted hugely from the opening of the world-class V&A museum. Since it opened, the museum has rejuvenated the Dundee waterfront and attracted more than half a million visitors from all over the UK and throughout the world. The Scottish Government has long been a supporter of the V&A Dundee and is a major funder, providing £38 million towards construction and £6.61 million to support the museum’s activity.

Scotland’s museums and galleries lead the way in many fields. Take, for example, our Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Scotland database. This comprehensive list of aspects of history we can’t see – stories of objects, local songs, myths and legends – is accessible by the general public, and has been copied by Norway and Finland as an example of best practice. The site includes hugely diverse entries, from shivery bites in Fife to the Marymass Fair in Irvine and the myths and legends of Common Ridings across the country.

Increasingly the role of museums and galleries are evolving from their original purpose to serve as hubs contributing to a variety of wider social agendas – from inclusion of hard-to-reach groups to health, well-being and social justice. I look forward to seeing this increase in the future as we see a range of projects provide greater engagement amongst communities.

A perfect example of this is ‘Art in the City’, a project to support people with dementia and their carers to visit the City Art Centre and other museums in Edinburgh. The visits are held once a month by volunteers who lead tours of art exhibitions and facilitate discussion.

As part of their evolution, museums are also striving to tackle contemporary issues, as is seen in the National Museum of Scotland’s Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk exhibition. Body Beautiful explores how the fashion industry is challenging long held societal perceptions of beauty and encouraging diversity, with examples from esteemed designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier. This is particularly relevant as we approach the end of Mental Health Awareness Week with body image the key theme.

One way museums and galleries are working to increase the appeal of the sector is through various programmes to boost employment opportunities.

One excellent example is Museums Galleries Scotland’s ‘Skills for Success Programme’, which recently won the UK-wide Creative Choices award. This fantastic programme aims to address issues, including a lack of diversity and entry routes into the museum workforce, and provided 22 people paid placements in museums across Scotland as they completed their SVQ level 3 in Museums and Galleries Practices.

Some may not be aware of the importance of these roles, but it is museum professionals who help us all to make the critical link between objects and artefacts in their care and the associated human stories that give life to our heritage in the here and now.

International Museums Day was created in 1977 with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of museums as a means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and the development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace amongst peoples.

Scotland’s national museums achieve this aim, telling the stories of our own and the wider world’s history, society, science and innovation. They inspire us to learn and encourage us to see our world in a new and different ways, and I encourage everyone to support them.