70 million visitors in 130 years: the museum that never gets old
“We’ve had more visitors than there are people in the UK”
As Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery prepares to celebrate its 130thanniversary on 28 November, Director of Birmingham Museums Trust, Dr Ellen McAdam has revealed that more visitors have passed through the doors than there are people in the UK!
Visitor figures for the museum, which first opened its doors on 28 November 1885, have now topped 70 million – six million more than the population of the United Kingdom. Averaging out at around 550,000 per year*, the most recent visitor numbers – over 840,000 visitors in 2014 – demonstrate that the museum has improved with age to become one of the most popular in the country outside London.
“If you lined up the 70 million people who have visited the museum over the last 130 years, the queue would stretch from Birmingham to Sultanganj – where the ‘Birmingham Buddha’, one of the first objects to be donated to the museum, was discovered – and back, a total of around nine thousand miles!” comments director, Ellen McAdam. “That is not only a fantastic achievement for the thousands of staff and volunteers who have hosted them throughout the years, but with visitor numbers once again on the rise, it shows that our unique collections continue to appeal to an incredibly wide audience. This has never been a museum that stands frozen in time, and with recent attractions like the Staffordshire Hoard Gallery and the recent exhibition, Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol, we’re welcoming new visitors all the time.”
Indeed, from its outset, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has been breaking new ground in arts and culture and, indeed, in presentational technology. The museum was established by wealthy industrialists as the ‘Corporation Art Gallery’ in 1867, but it was not until 1885 that the museum moved to a custom-built new home in Chamberlain Square, where it remains today at the heart of the city. The museum opened on a Saturday so that working people could be the first to view its collections, and the concept of free admission has remained at its core since its first day.
Amanda Bell, the great-granddaughter of Whitworth Wallis, one of the museum’s founding fathers and the very first Director, says, “My great-grandfather would have been so proud of what Birmingham Museum has achieved in its 130 years. He believed passionately that the key to our future productivity and well-being was to learn from the ages and cultures of the world, so he worked tirelessly to build the museums’ first collections - which still belong to the people of Birmingham today.”
Whitworth Wallis oversaw the installation of electric lighting in 1902, making it the first museum in the country to employ this new technology, and this concept of regular refreshing and redevelopment continues today, with recent developments including the creation of a Mini Museum aimed at under fives to ensure that the collections remain accessible to even the youngest visitors.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is marking the anniversary with a special exhibition, featuring objects from the collection that represent key times in the museum’s rich history, and a birthday party on Saturday 28 November, including fun activities, a giant birthday cake, special tours, an inspired special menu in the Edwardian Tearooms, and even a surprise visit from an historic monarch keen to see the treasures of her Empire on display!
For more information on Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s 130thbirthday celebrations, please visit www.birminghammuseums.org.uk
*Figures exclude a period during World War II when the museum was closed following a bombing.
Birmingham Museums Trust is an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. It uses the collection of around 800,000 objects to provide a wide range of arts, cultural and historical experiences, events and activities that deliver accessible learning, creativity and enjoyment for citizens and visitors to the city. Most areas of the collection are designated as being of national importance, including the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Attracting over 1 million visits a year, the Trust’s venues include Aston Hall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Blakesley Hall, Museum Collections Centre, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Thinktank and Weoley Castle. www.birminghammuseums.org.uk
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, Arts Council England plans to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. www.artscouncil.org.uk
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