Have you ever seen behind-the-scenes of large cultural instituion?
I love those snooping TV shows that look at how places work back-of-house . They were all the rage in the early 2000s – we saw what life was like in the back of a hotel, cruise ship, airport etc. And also museums as well. BBC Wales made a programme about the work of the British Museum while I was working there – The Museum – and BBC FOUR did a series a few years back looking at smaller museums and the issues they face.
I guess I’m pretty lucky in my job that I get to go back-of-house in museums and galleries quite often. In the last year I’ve got lost in the corridors of Kensington Palace (the public bit, not the royal household bit!) and wandered around basement of Buckingham Palace – I even sent my postcards from the Post Office in there. And I get to view and handle museum objects all the time. In fact, I often need to remind myself how lucky I am that I get the levels of access I do.
But there are loads of opportunities to see behind the closed doors of cultural buildings if you want to. There’s Open House each September, of course. And recently I’ve done a few behind-the-scenes tours of places that I’m interested in.
The BBC TV Centre tour is pretty interesting, perhaps mostly because it’s a chance to see a building in decline where programmes aren’t made on the same scale as they used to be. The National Theatre backstage tour is quite fun too, if you want to learn more about how a theatre operates – although it’s pretty heavy on the ideology of the institutions. Perhaps the most visually stunning one we’ve been on is the Houses of Parliament tour, which happens most Saturdays and during the summer recess – it’s not the greatest tour experience ever, but the building is just amazing and it feels like a real privilege to get inside the place.
And if you’re into buildings and design I can highly recommend the Barbican architecture tour which looks at how and why the housing complex and art centre looks and feels as it does today. At last, after 15 years of following the yellow line, the Barbican makes sense to me and I don’t get lost any more! The tour ends up in one of the service corridors of the complex where visitors get to see and touch the alternative experimental concrete finishes which the designers played with before they finally decided on how the Barbican would look – it’s quite mind-bending to see these alternative options and to imagine how the place could have ended up looking.
There are more tours planned, but they’re part of a surprise package for someone and I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. But if you have an enquiring mind we can definitely recommend you go take a look behind-the-scenes of some of our nation’s cultural institutions.