1867 was the birth year of the Manchester Museum, perfectly on point with the social and cultural intrigues of the time, and from the start it was destined for national recognition. Now with over 146 years of experience, it’s fair to say that the Manchester Museum and its staff are no strangers to the world of the curious, wild and exotic. As the Victorian public flocked to see exhibitions of Egyptology, biology and natural history, the secrets within the museum’s gothic walls certainly didn’t disappoint. With the likes of Jesse Haworth and Alfred Waterhouse to name just a few of the many prestigious figures behind the project, Manchester’s Museum was prepared to excite and surprise the general public.
However, in the changing times, the museum has not always been relevant; frequently exhibitions were outdated and screamed for renovations. The future looked a little bit brighter in 1997 when a £12.5 million donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund spurred massive redevelopments in the Living Cultures and Fossils Gallery, which would come to modernise and rejuvenate the museum for the better. Recently three new exhibitions have opened from 2011 up until earlier this year, culminating in the grand opening of Nature’s Library in April, and the reopening of the Vivarium on 26 October.
David Gelsthorpe, the project leader of Nature’s Library, explains, ‘Nature’s Library has given us the opportunity to showcase the best of our natural history collections; from insects to fossils and everything in between. Each of the main cases highlights how the collection is used in research into subjects like climate change and extinction, education and public events. The family friendly displays are in the style of an illustrated encyclopaedia and sit in the heart of the museum’s gothic galleries.’
With the economic climate still floundering and the government making cuts in the cultural sector, how did the museum manage to rejuvenate at such a critical and economically difficult time?
‘Funding and value for money were key considerations during the project. Generous donations came from a range of sources and in recent years, the museum has focussed on raising smaller amounts of money to deliver a more phased redevelopment of the galleries, rather than a full and costly shutdown.’
As a relic of the city, and a nationally recognised institution, the Manchester Museum’s flexibility and appeal to a wider audience is an outstanding example of its longevity and popularity. Whilst the country may not be out of the financial woods yet, the Manchester Museum stands as a beacon of both curiosity and resolve with its doors firmly open; it will no doubt continue to be a source of wonder and admiration for many generations to come.