Session 2. Scottish Projects

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A lovely introduction to the country that we’re all visiting virtually this week for the IIC Congress, for the second session of the day we explored projects from around Scotland, looking at how the museum buildings and collections are being adapted to the twenty-first century.

Firstly to Glasgow, where Stephanie de Roemer and Helen Hughes presented the Burrell Renaissance project. Here upgrading the environmental management systems in the building was seen as an opportunity to review the display of William Burrell’s personal collection, which ranges from large architectural pieces to colourful carpets, aligning them with the needs of current audiences while keeping the thread of his display style present.

I really liked the intent of the architect, which connected the design of the buildings to the parkland site and the collections, and how this is being continued by opening up some of the smaller rooms to create spaces that encourage visitors to wander and wonder among the collections. G. Scott asked if COVID-19 had changed the project, and while the display plans are unaffected, the logistics for the installation teams were altered to allow safe working practices.

Anna Starkey’s presentations give an overview of the evolving nature of the sites in the National Museum Scotland portfolio. With more detail about the Royal Museum Project, undertaken between 2006-2019 at the Chambers St site in Edinburgh, this was a phased capital project that aimed to fulfil audience wishes for increased accessibility throughout the building and more open displays (although she is still answering questions about the whereabouts of the fish ponds!). The redisplay has also fulfilled the organisational aim of displaying more objects than before. Anna spoke about the range of environmental data that has been gathered across the sites, and during the Q&A session she expanded on how this will be evaluated, in terms of what the collections team require and how this is disseminated to wider internal teams and the public.   

Thirdly, we travelled to Hill House near Helensburgh with Bryan Dickson and Suzanne Reid for a talk about how National Trust Scotland uses archival research alongside new digital technology to inform caring for the Charles Mackintosh designed building and interiors. Use of materials such as roughcast, and lack of traditional building details, have created unique water ingress challenges for stewards since 1904 until the present day. The complexity of the problem has challenged the project team to think about the authenticity of exterior finishes as well as interior aesthetics.

The main theme for the Q&A session focused on how the organisations are gathering and engaging with visitors’ opinions on the future of the museums. For the Burrell Collection, ongoing work with the Open Museum project and Visitor Research Curators is reducing access barriers, such as technical conservation jargon, while encouraging community participation in decision making processes for displays at the Pollok Gallery as well as opening up collections with stores visits. At the National Museum Scotland (NMS), Anna noted the use of visitor surveys for understanding visitor requirements. At Hill House, visitor engagement is ongoing, and feedback has highlighted that ‘The Box’ has changed visitors view of the building with it being akin to a display case, saying it emphasised the vulnerability of the structure. During 2020 new rooms have been opened to adapt to COVID-19 rules and new interpretation produced in collaboration with curators. Other questions looked at sustainability practices, for NMS this is becoming embedded in their practice, from procurement to environmental parameters. At Hill House, the impact of changing weather patterns caused by climate change is key to understanding the deterioration and the solutions needed in the short and medium term.

 

Author and Byline:

Katherine List is a postgraduate student at Cardiff University.