Posts Tagged ‘Ashmolean’

Provincial Town of the Year 2011

In Awards, Museums on December 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This year has seen me galloping around the UK rather a lot for work. It’s been great fun to see so many places and to meet people working in museums up and down the country.

That said I’ve stood on many cold platforms, endured lonely nights in strange hotels and eaten quite a few sorry meals on my own. Spending time in a British provincial town solo is a good way to try and understand a place – to figure out what makes it tick and to see if it’s the kind of place I’d want to live ever. I have to say, there are very few that are looking to beat London, even if there are a lot of museums around the place.

So I thought that as part of my annual awards I ought to create a new category for Provincial Town of the Year.
Here’s the short list of where I went (and what I was doing there):

Margate – to see the new Turner Contemporary
Hmmm, people say there’s a renaissance happening in Margate. They’ve got a great new art gallery and some lovely tea rooms, but I think I’ll wait and see on this one. (They are planning a rollercoaster museum, however, so let’s watch this one with interest!)

Oxford – to work on a multimedia guide for The Ashmolean
I always enjoy a trip to Oxford and feel I now know if well enough to hang out there at night as well as during the day. But not sure I could live there full time.

Petworth – to work on a multimedia guide of Petworth House
This is charming little village in West Sussex, dominated by the massive National Trust property and overrun with antique shops. It’s cute, but it’s far too small for me. (And I suspect property prices aren’t far off London!)

Glasgow – to see the new Riverside Museum
The museum itself (designed by Zaha Hadid) on the banks of the river is an architectural triumph and a great visitor attraction to the area. It’s rather out of town, so it won’t add that much to the regeneration of the city, but we had time to jet into the centre to see the much-heralded Kelvingrove Museum. And to sample some fab Scottish food!

Cambridge – to chair focus groups for a piece of research
If I were an American I’d say Cambridge felt cuter and OLD-er than Oxford, and certainly has more charm. But it’s perhaps lacking the pace and city attitude that Oxford has. The Fitzwilliam Museum is a pretty fab museum though – like a mini-British Museum.

Manchester – to interview the public about the First World War
This is where I grew up, so am likely to always hold a soft spot for Manchester. This is perhaps the only place on the list where I’d move tomorrow. I visited this year in the sunny September heat wave so was thoroughly entertained by the Mancunians, who weren’t entirely sure what the large yellow thing in the sky was!

Bristol – to see the new MShed
I’ve been to Bristol a few times over the last five years or so and find I like it more and more. There’s certainly a very vibrant cultural life there. But is it just too far away from London, perhaps?

Bath – to see museums and eat lovely food
I can’t believe I’d not been to Bath before. If you’ve not been, it’s a cute as you think it is. And then some. Great museums and great food. My top tip would be to take the tour of the freemasons’ hall – it’s a great space and well worth spending a few hours having a nosy around. And the Holbourne Museum is definitely worth the trip.

Edinburgh – to work on a multimedia guide for National Mining Museum Scotland
I went a few times to Edinburgh for work this year. Alas, I was on the outskirts of town which, charming as they are, aren’t quite comparable to the centre of town. I think I’m due a trip back there for the festival in 2012, Olympics permitting.

Belfast – to see the great museums there and visit the site of the new Titanic Museum
It was great to get back to Northern Ireland this year and to get under the skin of Belfast. It’s a city which has had its (un)fair share of troubles over the last 40 years, but it’s still a hugely welcoming place. Some people forget that NI is part of the same landmass as the rest of Ireland and that it’s simply beautiful. The developments on the docks are set to revitalise the city even further and I can see some more trips back there coming soon.

And the winner is …

I visited a few times to work with the team building The Novium, a new museum due to open in Chichester in 2012.
It’s just such a cute town. There isn’t a whole load of things to do, but as a town (sorry, city) it all seems to work rather well, sitting together in a very happy medium.

Working on the museum content I got to learn plenty about the history of the place. And I also sat in on choral evensong in Chichester Cathedral, which is well worth it if you’re in town.

Where have you been to in the provinces in 2011? Any good tips?


My first i-phone app

In Museums on April 23, 2010 at 8:24 am

You can now download a full audio tour of the Ashmolean museum in Oxford – scribed by me – from iTunes.

The tour is delivered on handsets in the museum building, which you have to give back at the end of your visit, of course. But now you can buy the content in advance, listen to it in front of the objects and keep it afterwards. That way you can always listen to one of my scripts wherever you are – if you must!

It’s been provided by the producers of the audio tour, ATS Heritage, who I’ve also worked with on a tour for Lambeth Palace Library.

The app is yours for £2.99 from the iTunes store.

How many museums can a boy see in a week?

In Museums on October 22, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Phew, it’s been a bit of a hectic week for museum-visiting Steve.
I’ve been working hard, honest, but in the last seven days I’ve managed to visit:

The Wellcome Collection to see Exquisite Bodies, an exhibition about 19th-century anatomical models, some of which were pretty gruesome and explicit. But a good show, now sadly closed.

Bunker exhibition at the Barbican Centre. It’s an imaginary WW2-esque bunker (of indeterminate location) where visitors are free to wander the network of rooms, filled with props, dust and a working underground postal train!

The British Museum to see their Power of Dogu exhibition – a lovely group of ancient objects from Japan which haven’t really been displayed before in this country. Great interpretation (well done Claire E.)

The Life at Sea exhibition on board HMS Belfast, which gets people of all ages imagining they’re in the Navy.

The British Library for their great interactive sound exhibition about 20th-century speeches, called The Sound and the Fury. And I can’t resist a visit to Magna Carta whenever I’m there too. As the Americans would say, it’s just so old. And it’s important too.

A behind-the-scenes look at the new Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which opens on 7 November. I’ve been working with them over the last month, writing the new audio tour for the museum. It’s looking fab back there – such a creative and well thought out museum space. While in Oxford I checked out an old favourite – the Museum of Natural History and the recently re-opened Pitt Rivers Museum, which looks much the same but is greatly improved in terms of getting round the building. Yes, I saw the shrunken heads. Yes, they’re still really cool.

Also in Oxford I made a trip to Modern Art Oxford to see the Karla Black exhibition. When I look at modern art I generally don’t like to say ‘I could’ve done that’. It’s a rather crude and simplistic assessment of someone’s work. But sherbert on the floor and a giant condom full of custard really don’t do it for me.

Yesterday I was at the Tower of London to see the crown jewels, beefeaters, ravens etc. And also to see Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill in the White Tower. It’s not been made by HRP, but by the Royal Armouries. And it shows. There’s some great film of shiny armour and clashing swords. Real Tudor video and everything.

And this morning I put my nose around Moctezuma at the British Museum. It’s got some fab objects never seen before outside Mexico, and a real twist in the tale – hard to achieve in a narrative museum exhibition. The BM also opened another Mexican-inspired – Revolution on Paper, which features some really striking posters and political art (along with other things which inspire me less.) I always marvel at the size and breadth of the BM’s prints and drawings collection. It’s just huge.

I think I might need a period when I don’t visit any exhibitions. I’ve definitely got museum fatigue!