Night at the Festival of Museums is not so scary

Festival of Museums offers something for everyone at museums large and small across the country, from tractor rallies to Viking taverns, as Joanne Orr reveals
The Festival of Museums is offering something for everyone. Picture: Phil WilkinsonThe Festival of Museums is offering something for everyone. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The Festival of Museums is offering something for everyone. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Have you noticed that Vikings, Pharaohs and Romans have all been jostling for your attention in recent weeks? Mentions of Steampunks, edible archaeology and an atomic tea dance may have caught your ear. This eclectic ensemble can only mean that the annual Festival of Museums returns this weekend. From 15–17 May, museums from Ness to Nairn and Benholm to Berwick will be throwing open their doors and offering visitors a little bit of the unexpected. This year boasts the biggest programme to date with over 110 events happening the length and breadth of the country.

Festival of Museums – the only event of its kind in Scotland – is co-ordinated and promoted by Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) to raise sector profile. All museums and galleries in Scotland can take part. The festival links with the wider cultural celebration taking place to mark International Museums Day including Museums at Night and European Nuit des Musées.

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For visitors, Festival of Museums is all about finding something exciting, entertaining and surprising at Scotland’s museums and galleries.

Entertainment is certainly on the cards this year. A knitting relay at Gairloch Museum. A tractor rally at Ness Heritage Trust. A music festival at Banchory Museum. Edwardian Dundee celebrated at the McManus Museum and Art Gallery. A Viking tavern at Dumfries Museum. An architectural tour from Glasgow School of Art. A historic pub tour from Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

For museums, taking part in Festival of Museums is a chance to develop and enhance event management and marketing skills. MGS offers accredited museums grants of up to £1,500 towards the event costs and we encourage them to use the funding to try something different that will help them to attract new audiences.

Since its inception in 2011, more than 60,000 people have enjoyed Festival of Museums events across Scotland. For a third of these people it has been their first visit to that museum.

Festival of Museums encourages visitors to learn about, and get involved with, their communities’ history. The strong attendance and positive feedback from visitors each year shows us that there is a demand for engaging and authentic events that link to a museum’s own collections, building or stories from the history of the area. People are learning while having fun.

The Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry at Almond Valley is highlighting the area’s mining heritage through dance, song and storytelling. Scalloway Museum’s event will remember the daring exploits of night-time missions and the brave men who risked everything while running the Shetland Bus boats between Shetland and Norway during the Second World War.

Some events explore the sadder stories within their communities. This weekend Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre on North Uist launches their innovative Interactive Field of Poppies installation. It plots poppies on to local interest maps such as Grimsay, North Uist and Berneray, marking where deaths occurred during the First World War. Multi-media materials provide personal histories, poetry and songs.

The festival creates a real opportunity for museums to approach and develop a relationship with local businesses to sponsor or support the event. Developing mutually beneficial partnerships is a valuable skill for a sustainable museums sector.

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Partnerships are flourishing this year. Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery have linked up with the Scottish Crannog Centre on their underwater archaeology event. Dumfries Museum is collaborating with Beyond the Beep, who promote responsible metal detecting. John Muir’s Birthplace Museum and Dunbar Town House are working with Sustaining Dunbar on their Devouring Nature event.

Glasgow Life has brought Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust on board to bus visitors between events at five of their museums including Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, GoMA and the Burrell Collection, for their Great Big Museum Bus Tour. The University of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Surgeons are collaborating to create a spectacular and stylish night of dark entertainment at the Scandal at Surgeons Hall event this Saturday.

I think you get the picture. There are even a number of photography events happening that will help you take that picture. There is a Festival of Museums event to suit all ages and interests taking place this weekend. So get into the festival mood and have some fun.

Joanne Orr is chief executive of Galleries Scotland. To search the events programme visit