Sarah Burry-Hayes: Making an exhibition of themselves – festival showcases new breed of museums

Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh took part in the festival. Picture: Ian Georgeson.
Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh took part in the festival. Picture: Ian Georgeson.
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Last weekend there was a real spirit of celebration across the country, and it wasn’t just the royal nuptials.

From 18 May to 20 May, Scotland’s museums and galleries hosted more than 100 special events in honour of the twelfth annual Festival of ­Museums.

The festival is created and co-ordinated by Museums Galleries ­Scotland, which is ­committed to supporting the ­museum and ­galleries industry in Scotland through investment, skills development and ­profile-raising opportunities, the largest of which is the annual Festival of Museums.

The festival encourages Scotland’s museums to host a diverse range of inspiring, entertaining and ­surprising events, day and night. It’s a celebration which shows that ­Scotland’s diverse networks of ­museums, galleries and cultural attractions are exciting places to visit year-round. Museums and ­galleries are ­changing. In the 21st century, ­museums are developing and ­pushing the boundaries, using their beautiful spaces, curator expertise and special collections to create a new breed of events and exhibits.

An example is ­museums turning their venues into after-hours destinations, catering to adult guests looking for a different kind of night out. At Museums Galleries Scotland we work alongside Museums at Night, the bi-annual UK-wide event, to take this movement to the next level.

This year’s Festival of Museums ­programme included a host of evening events, each proving that museums aren’t just for kids and ­families.

One example was Dino Night at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, an event which truly embraced the spirit of the after-hours movement – a bar and dancefloor were installed in the museum and visitors were ­entertained by circus performances and a silent disco, as well as some hands-on archaeological experiences. Likewise the Tall Ship in Glasgow turned into a stand-up comedy ­venue and Aberdeen’s Maritime Museum hosted a Gaelic electronica evening.

The continued success of the ­festival proves the versatility of ­Scotland’s museums as valuable ­multi-purpose spaces where all members of the community can meet and enjoy culture together.

To illustrate this span, in Elgin, the local museum hosted a dementia-friendly event called Play Through the Ages giving visitors the opportunity to interact through games from decades past and present – while in Bute, the Mount Stuart Museum hosted a parent and baby sensory event called Babies at the Museum – proving no one is too young to benefit from their local museum.

Ultimately, the festival aims to help Scotland’s museums reimagine themselves. No longer are they ­places where visitors quietly peruse collections, but instead cultural hubs where visitors can socialise, relax and learn… but above all, have fun!

We’re still evaluating the success of the 2018 festival, but anecdotal ­feedback from museum staff and visitors alike has been really positive.

The festival is an occasion valued by Scotland’s attractions and we know from previous years that most ­participating museums report a ­significant boost in footfall over the festival, with a 58 per cent rise in ­visitors reported in 2017 compared to an ordinary weekend. Next year’s festival will take place in May, so put the date in your diary. We’d also love more museums to take part. Funding is available, as well as organisational and marketing support for participating venues.

For further information please visit www.festivalofmuseums.com

Sarah Burry-Hayes, marketing ­manager at Museums Galleries ­Scotland.