National treasures are shared locally

National Museum of Scotland. Picture: Dan PhillipsNational Museum of Scotland. Picture: Dan Phillips
National Museum of Scotland. Picture: Dan Phillips
Museum’s collection is part of our collective history, says Jilly Burns

NATIONAL Museums Scotland cares for a collection of more than 12 million items at our four individual museums and the National Museums Collection Centre, and also works closely with local museums around the country.

It is our aim to ensure that Scotland’s collections are used for the benefit of the nation, curated and cared for, their stories retained, revealed and promoted locally, nationally and internationally.

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We work hard to listen to what the museums sector in Scotland needs and respond to that, supplementing and supporting innovation at a local level.

Through our work across Scotland, we connect with local communities, contributing to national economic and social prosperity and creating enjoyable and enriching opportunities for everyone. We do this in a variety of ways; through partnerships, loans and exhibitions of our collections, expert support for the work of local museums and learning and engagement experiences and events.

We also benefit greatly from a network of partnerships with museums that allows us to present and explore the national collections with local audiences, assisting them to deliver on their ambitions, while expanding the reach and impact of the national collections.

In the past year we have shared our collections and expertise across all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, providing long-term loans to more than 90 venues across Scotland, and lending more than 2,600 objects to venues around the world.

We have delivered free training to 341 museum colleagues around the country and administered support for 72 new acquisitions to the sector via £150,000 from the National Fund for Acquisitions, provided to local museums and galleries.

Our historic links with museums around the country – through our collections and expertise – have been built up and nurtured over many years.

One venue we have been working closely with is the new Lews Castle Museum, which will open at the end of this year. This iconic Victorian castle near Stornoway is being redeveloped and renovated, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government and Historic Scotland.

It will incorporate a five-star hotel, self-catering accommodation and a purpose-built museum The museum will showcase more than 300 fascinating objects with connections to the Western Isles, 88 of which are on loan from National Museums Scotland.

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Objects on loan from our collections range from our Morgan three-wheel motor car, previously used in Stornoway and the island of Berneray, to a number of Viking hoards uncovered in the area. In addition, the British Museum is lending six of their iconic Lewis Chessmen, discovered in 1831 at Uig Bay, not far from Lews Castle.

Lews Castle Museum offers a window to the Western Isles, and the opportunity for National Museums to work more closely with community museums across the islands.

We have enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Western Isles Council for the past eight years. Our work with them has ranged from providing mentoring support for staff to collaborating on an exhibition, The Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked, which toured Scotland in 2010-2011. Our relationship with the team at Lews Castle Museum will continue after opening and we are excited to have the opportunity to work with them in the long term.

The current economic climate has brought challenges for museums.

Our focus now is to ensure that we continue to deliver benefits across Scotland, to expand our network of partnerships, lend national treasures to venues around the country, promote new learning experiences and provide advice and support where we can.

Looking ahead, we are beginning a new phase of activity to expand the reach and impact of Scotland’s collections for the widest possible benefit. This includes new national projects, a programme of touring exhibitions and activities that promote Scotland’s collections as widely as possible.

As Scotland’s national museum service, we engage with people across the nation and ensure that our collections, expertise and programmes make wide-reaching impacts far beyond the walls of our museums.

• Jilly Burns is head of National and International Partnerships at National Museums Scotland