John Donnelly: Putting culture and heritage, art and history at the forefront of the city

Hundreds of thousands of artefacts and artworks, objects and more, are in the care of Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, which,along with the city's council, curates and cares for them on our behalf. Picture: Greg Macvean
Hundreds of thousands of artefacts and artworks, objects and more, are in the care of Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, which,along with the city's council, curates and cares for them on our behalf. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Home of Scotland’s National Galleries and the country’s most popular visitor attraction, the National Museum of Scotland, there is a genuine appetite from Edinburgh’s visitors to see and experience these beautiful venues, discovering for themselves everything from international masterpieces to the smallest curiosities from a bygone era.

Edinburgh is a city that celebrates and is proud of its rich culture and heritage. Last month we were recognised as the 2017 Arts & Theatre Destination of the Year in the Luxury Travel Guide Awards. Yet when it comes to the sheer range of works of art and unique objects, the national collections are the tip of the iceberg of what Edinburgh has to offer both its tourists and its residents.

John Donnelly, Chief Executive Marketing Edinburgh

John Donnelly, Chief Executive Marketing Edinburgh

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh owns and takes responsibility for managing and preserving 14 A and B listed venues, on behalf of Edinburgh’s residents. Many of which showcase Edinburgh’s art and history through 220,000 diverse objects, displayed and carefully curated in an inspiring calendar of temporary exhibitions and public programmes, often months or even years in the planning.

The City Art Centre alone, for example, has four ongoing exhibitions at the moment. All free to attend they range from an exploration of ‘A Fine Line’ between arts and craft by contemporary Scottish artists, to a celebration of William Henry Playfair’s contribution to Edinburgh’s architectural landscape, timed to coincide with the redevelopment of his City Observatory on Calton Hill.

While most are aware of the flagship and much-loved museums, venues, galleries and monuments, such as The Scott Monument, The Writers’ Museum, Greyfriars Bobby and the Usher Hall, few residents will fully appreciate the sheer range of locations, or the 200 historic monuments they pass by every day. From the Travelling Gallery and Trinity Apse, a spectacular gothic Old Town Kirk to the Burns Monument and St Mary’s Well, collectively they tell the integral story of our city’s past.

Not only that, with a few exceptions such as The Scott Monument and Lauriston Castle, the vast majority of the Museum & Galleries Edinburgh properties are free to visit, simply asking for a small donation to help with their upkeep. How can we help even more people know and appreciate this extraordinary resource of history and culture, guaranteed to inspire and surprise both locals and our tourists alike?

As the custodians of the rich port-folio of venues, monuments and exhibitions that collectively attract over 800,000 annual visitors, the majority of which are from overseas, the City of Edinburgh Council are doing an excellent job. Yet how can we do even more to engage our local audience?

As the official destination marketing organisation for the city, it made perfect sense for Marketing Edinburgh to support the work City of Edinburgh Council in its ambition to raise awareness of Museum & Galleries Edinburgh’s distinct portfolio.

Over the last year, Marketing Edinburgh has been working closely with Museums & Galleries Edinburgh team to implement a marketing and business strategy that will drive additional footfall, while strengthening an important commercial revenue stream, which helps to support the city’s cultural offering.

The process has seen Marketing Edinburgh and Museums & Galleries Edinburgh build a successful collaborative partnership. From an initial tweak to the brand identity last year, we have worked together to strengthen Museums & Galleries Edinburgh offering by creating a more accessible and public-facing presence.

Launched this week, the new website commissioned by Museum & Galleries Edinburgh, is an essential next step. By uprooting it from the city council website, creates the digital presence it deserves and effectively becoming the 15th venue. Here we can clearly and concisely communicate the variety and genuine value Museums & Galleries Edinburgh contributes to our city.

Packed with information and eye-catching imagery to help people navigate and discover their beautiful buildings, the new website highlights current events and exhibitions, alongside the opportunities to enjoy the many hidden gems for free. The knowledge, experience and passion of curators, staff and volunteers are also brought to life, through a range of blog posts and stories, aimed at inspiring visits and return future trips.

A new online shop, allowing people to browse for art, gifts and memorabilia, as well as a booking service to reserve free and paid-for ticketed events, have also been added, helping Museums & Galleries Edinburgh to become more commercially aware in raising supporting funds.

It’s an ongoing process, but thanks to the collaboration between Marketing Edinburgh and the Council team, we are transforming how Edinburgh presents its museums, galleries and monuments. I’m pleased to say that by working together, we are well on the way to delivering the world-class museum and galleries service a 
capital city like Edinburgh deserves.

John Donnelly, chief executive, 
Marketing Edinburgh