Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Belarus doesn’t get many tourists

In Museums, Places on November 13, 2017 at 2:20 pm

“Why have you come here?”

“Tourism.” I smiled a hopefully at the Belarussian border guard.

He inspected our passports at length, only the creaking of his leather boots and the crackle of his cigarette breaking the seemingly endless silence. This uneasy welcome was to be repeated during our stay in Belarus.

It gets perilously cold in Minsk in the winter and the windows of most bars and restaurants in the city are covered over, meaning tourists can’t peek in to see if a venue has any customers, or even if it’s the kind of place one would want to be in anyway. I lost count of the number of times I turned on my heels at the door, realising I’d stumbled into yet another strip club or casino. As soon as we found a place where the waitress wasn’t dressed in underwear we’d use basic Russian and melodramatic pointing to order dumplings and cheap beer.

At the National Art Museum we managed to communicate – via schoolboy French and yet more pointing – that we wanted to enter and, despite the reservations of the cashier, purchase tickets. The only person we found who spoke English in the otherwise empty gallery was the cloakroom attendant. As she took our coats she asked, “Why have you come here?”

“Tourism and museums,” I proffered, and, now emboldened by a few days in the city, “and to see your many beautiful buildings.”

She shrugged. But the buildings are part of why I was there.

Minsk is an architectural time capsule. Looking down the central highway of Nyezhavizhimosty Avenue that links Independence Square and Victory Square you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Soviet Union’s plan for a grand boulevard to rival the Champs-Élysées had been realised. Despite being essentially flattened in the Second World War, Stalin rebuilt the city at speed and in a modern, yet grandiose, style.
The huge concrete blocks don’t quite fit with the classical columns though, the garish colour choices aren’t in keeping with the grand European vista they seek to imitate, and the prominent KGB head office is slightly unnerving. But the endeavour is impressive.

It turns out that even the most hardened fans of lurid concrete and Brutalism can have too much of a good thing. In a moment of weakness we ventured into the Grand Café, somehow untouched by the Belarussian design palette, where we happily found smoked salmon, sirloin steak and Italian espresso for just a few roubles. We also found a bored waitress who spoke fluent English.

“Why have you come here?” she asked, while we gorged ourselves on treats. Sensing she was the first person we’d met who wasn’t an informant we replied honestly, explaining our fascination with Soviet design and architecture and with museums in the post-Soviet world.

“I would love to go to London one day,” she told us, while acknowledging quietly that a trip outside Belarus would be highly unlikely.

“This is a dictatorship,” she concluded while preparing us more martinis. “I still don’t understand why you’ve come here.”


Celebrating rejection

In Museums on August 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm

The life of a consultant means regularly pitching for work.

My freelance CV over the last decade or so in the museum sector looks pretty good. But I don’t win every project I apply for and sometimes the news of an unsuccessful pitch can be a blow.

Rather than glossing over those projects that I didn’t win or hiding them away in the corner, I thought I’d share them, in the spirit of being open and honest.

Today, I stuck my rejection emails to my office door, in an act of celebrating my own failures.

Why am I doing this?
It’s partially in response to a twitter post by Nick Hopwood @NHopUTS and subsequent blog post sharing some of his rejections for academic papers and research projects.

He says:
“the effect of not sharing our rejections publicly is that we (often unintentionally) uphold the illusion of uncompromised success.”

And I think Nick is right.

Challenging perfection
There’s a belief held by some that we consultants are problem-solvers. We swan in, offer a solution to a problem and swan away again. Well yes, we do do that – especially the swanning.

That doesn’t mean we know all the answers, though. This might come as a surprise to some, but it turns out I’m actually not completely perfect.

By choosing not to explore our own vulnerabilities or failures we consultants are, I think, contributing to an idea that we’re actually any better than anyone else working in the heritage sector. Often, museum consultants simply have wider experience, not better experience, than their clients. We offer perspective and we try to share the best practice that we’ve gathered by moving around within the sector, but we certainly don’t know all the answers.

Being humble
I’d like to think that by sharing a list of projects that I didn’t manage to win, it shows I have at least an ounce of empathy for others when things don’t go quite to plan – your rejected exhibition proposal, your failed HLF bid, your disappointing visitor numbers or shop sales. Life’s a competition, and sometimes we don’t win. We have to learn to deal with that.

It’s also good to take a dose of humility sometimes, and to learn some compassion for when I have to let others down gently. Some of the recurring phrases in the feedback listed here are a rather trite and I’d like to think that in the future I’ll be conscious of how I present negative feedback to others.

Celebrating failure
It turns out there’s nothing new in taking time to reflect on our failures within the heritage sector. There’s even a twitter account already dedicated to museum gaffs. @Museum_Oops is well worth a visit. And, of course, the Museum of Failure is a lesson in eating humble pie.

Go on, have a gawp
For clients of mine, potential clients, and other museum consultants, this post is perhaps a moment to enjoy some schadenfreude while looking at the bids where I wasn’t successful – especially if you won some of these nice gigs. If you did, my wholehearted* congratulations.

If you want to know about my successes, it’s very easy to see. My CV is right here for anyone to view – a half-decent array of projects over the years, I think, and I’m justly proud of it.

But if you want to see the other side of it, then here are my rejections.

Celebrating rejection


Museums can be intentionally provocative

In Museums on March 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Museums are great places for us to look at the world in a new way. The collections they hold are portals that allow us to view art, science and history with a fresh perspective and to think about the world differently. Museums are places of discovery where our minds are allowed to wander.

At least, that what’s they want you to believe.

I believe this is what museums aim for, but that in reality many museums regurgitate the same stories and the same views they have been doing for years. Centuries even.

I wonder if they museums could be intentionally provocative?

Provoking audiences
Received wisdom is a dangerous thing when it comes to creating museum interpretation. All too often the heritage sector plays it safe. Museums write what they think they ought to write and don’t necessarily push the boundaries. The words on the little pieces of card by the artworks are going to be read by the public, after all. And also peers from within the heritage sector.

What if museums didn’t write in an academic tone and tried to rock the boat a little? What if museums challenged not only their own versions of history, but provoked us as visitors to challenge ourselves? What if they made us uncomfortable??

Here are a few examples of what I mean by gentle provocation.

A Roman frontier
Hadrian’s Wall was built in the AD 120s as a frontier. It runs for over 70 miles right across England on the borderline of what was once the Roman Empire to the south and land occupied by Ancient Britons on the north. The Emperor Hadrian was marking the edge of the empire with a heavily fortified construction – a symbol of Roman power and control. It also acted as a defensive shield and an economic control zone.

Hadrian's Wall (Steve Slack)
Today Hadrian’s Wall is presented to the public as a frontier and as an architectural marvel. The tourist sites along it tell stories of the construction of the wall, Roman military and social life and also the landscape in which it sits. It’s displayed as a feat of design and engineering and of something the Romans were proud of.

It’s also a great place for a walk, with splendid views along the UNESCO-protected site.

If we in the heritage community are really as bothered about learning from history as we say we are, I wonder if we ought to also be encouraging visitors to Hadrian’s Wall to think again about what the wall represents?

Walls and barriers throughout history tend not to have worked out that well. Berlin. Gaza. Belfast. And now the US President wants to build another one?!

The custodians of Hadrian’s Wall could, if they wanted, invite us to overturn the idea that walls that keep people out (or in) are positive forces. By showing stories from both sides of the wall, we provoke people to challenge their own preconceptions about the monument, but also to reflect on our own lives in a different way. What do walls and barriers mean to us today? Should we celebrate Hadrian’s Wall?

Industrial heroes
Further south in England is the city of Manchester. Today it’s home to world-famous football teams and media companies, but 250 years ago it was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

At the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester the men – and they were all men – whose technological advances made the revolution possible are celebrated. Their various scientific inventions that harnessed the power of nature and turned it into products – and money – show how the rapid explosion in production and wealth changed the world forever.

1903-212|LW_SCMU_1903_212   1860-4|TEXC100072|10307358

Take Richard Arkwright, for example, described by the museum as ‘Father of the Factory Age’ – and he well deserves this title. His cotton spinning machine and his early steam-powered factories allowed for production of cotton to increase rapidly and for money to flow into the country from across the British Empire.

But what also started right here in Manchester is the workers’ rights movement.

While we celebrate Arkwright as an industrialist, we need to remember that nearly two-thirds of his employees were children, who started work at the age of seven. He graciously allowed employees in Cromford, Derbyshire, a week’s holiday a year, on condition that they didn’t leave the village.

The conditions in which those grafting workers were expected to spend long periods of time are presented in Manchester’s People’s History Museum but they don’t get such a high profile in industrial museums. Or how about the fact that the whole Industrial Revolution was propped up by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. All that cotton came from somewhere, right? But that gets glossed over.

And so to does the role that the industrial revolution played in climate change.

In the slavery museum, the social history museum, the natural history museum and the people’s rights museum the Industrial Revolution is presented in a very different light.
Surely we all have to admit that a cotton weaving machine – as much as a technological advance as it may have been – has many more stories to tell than one of how we learned to process cotton in industrial quantities.

It might make for uncomfortable reading in an industrial context, but it’s true.

Why provoke?
There’s a question about whether museums should be challenging their visitors in this way.

Should they provoke visitors with alternative histories or ones that go against the norm? Or should the toe the line?

If you believe that museums have a mission to fulfil of being spaces of learning, reflection and change, then it’s fairly easy to say ‘yes’ to that. And if museums are repositories of collections that have multiple histories, surely they have a duty to explain them as fully as possible.

So Hadrian’s Wall becomes a place where we provoke visitors to challenge the idea of enforced borders. And industrial history provokes us to ask questions about human rights and the environment.

But a question remains about how far they should they go in being intentionally provocative.

Challenging environment
There are, of course, factors that need to be considered when taking this approach.
To start with the museum sector is a place where change tends to happen slowly. There will be traditionalists who don’t want to upset the academics and don’t want to rock the boat.

This much we know and this much we have been working with to persuade of the public benefit.

Taking this approach will require being brave – and for some that will be a challenge. It’s difficult to be provocative if you’re still insistent on being vague. And there’s always a risk that there’ll be some negative feedback – from visitors, from the media, from trustees and from peers.

Personally, I think these are all brilliant reasons FOR challenging the established story, not hiding away from controversy.

Being provocative
It’s worth acknowledging that many places are doing great work already, telling multiple stories – including the heritage sites I’ve mentioned above. These institutions are savvy – they know that by not acknowledging alternative histories they open themselves up to criticism and that by engaging with potentially difficult subjects they can create new conversations.

By showing new perspectives – and by provoking visitors – museums can generate conversations and potentially change attitudes. They can gain traction and media coverage. Positioning yourself as a museum which provokes might even attract a new audience and you could even end up becoming a source of inspiration to other institutions.

But if we are going to be provocative, we need to be brave.

Ways forward
Given these concerns, how then might museums start on their journey to visitor provocation? Here are a few thoughts on how it might happen ….

Have a go and see what happens
Write a label with a different history that challenges the norm and place it on public display for a day. Did anyone complain? Try it up there for two days and see if you get letters from angry visitors. Try it for a week.

Provide multiple viewpoints
Rather than simply describing something in a completely new way, you could provide two interpretations offering different perspectives, rather than just one. Be traditional and be provocative at the same time. Show the multi-vocality of museum collections.

Say it, don’t write it
If you’re not brave enough to write something provocative on a label and leave it unattended, try adding it to a tour or a live event. Museum tours have gone from strength to strength in recent years. The people at Museum Hack have a great knack for this and are exploring ways of engaging visitors by using guides, games and gossip.

Pass the buck
Rather than taking the risk yourself, try getting someone who doesn’t represent the mainstream museum voice to be provocative. Get a journalist or someone from a different organisation to write in a new way about an object in your collection and watch what happens afterwards.

Make it digital
Your social media community isn’t a hostile place – they’re your friends. Periscope your provocation, tweet it, Instagram the freak out of it. Stick it on you tube. And if you don’t like the reaction you can take it down.

Will you be provocative?
Being provocative in the museum space doesn’t mean being revolutionary. This kind of work could be quite simple and subtle. It doesn’t require rebranding an industrial museum as the National Museum of Human Exploitation, Slavery and Injustice. And it doesn’t involve spray-painting Hadrian’s Wall with a slogan about evil wall-builders.

Museums are cleverer than that. They can do it subtly. And they can certainly provoke their visitors for positive results.

Go on. Be a provocateur.

Images:  Richard Arkwright and Arkwright’s prototype spinning machine, 1769 both from Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed March 15, 2017. 

While writing this blog I thought it might be of interest to Museum Hack’s writing contest, so am entering it here.


Are museums good for your health?

In Museums on September 6, 2016 at 2:34 pm

If you’re poorly, it’s likely that your doctor will tell you to take some medicine. We’re used to receiving a prescription, taking it to the chemist and collecting our cure. And it’s also common for healthcare professionals to prescribe other things, such as therapeutic measures – physiotherapy, advice, counselling etc.

Today doctors were encouraged to give overweight patients ‘green space’ prescriptions to get them exercising outdoors.

But what about a trip to a museum? Have you ever heard of a doctor telling you to go see the dinosaurs or Egyptian mummies in order to effect health benefit?

It turns out it’s happening already. As part of what’s called ‘social prescribing’, healthcare professionals are directing patients to take part in activities that promote wellbeing.

Museum reminiscence projects have been helping to support people with dementia for years. Reminiscence allows people to focusing on what they have got, not what they have lost and to keep memories alive.

There’s a fair bit of interest in this area of work. University College London is part way through a three year Museums on Prescription research project (2014-2017) which is exploring the value and role of museums in social prescribing.

And there’s evidence out there already to suggest that increasing understanding and empathy for those living with and caring for people with dementia helps to promote care and compassion in the healthcare workforce.

But let’s remember that the wellbeing agenda has been a part of museum learning thinking for quite a while now. Individual museums have been delivering wellbeing projects in all but name since their inception.

A good example of this is the Art Museum in Ancoats led by Thomas Coglan Horsfall (1841-1932). The museum was a direct response to the work of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and an articulation of Horsfall’s commitment to a belief in the personal and wider social benefits of appreciating beauty through art.

Indeed, Ruskin opened his own museum in Sheffield for steel workers to visit on their days off, partly for their artistic education, but also as something pleasant to do and to feel good about themselves.

But many museum activities around wellbeing have simply been going under the radar.

It’s perhaps that work like this has been defined in a museum context, not in health context that news of it has been limited to cultural spheres. The links to the wellbeing impact that a museum visit might have, have not been made as explicitly as they could have been, or in terms that are relevant to the healthcare sector. Instead, this work has developed organically in museums and galleries, often driven by the aspiration to grow and respond to new audiences.

And so it’s really pleasing to learn there’s work now being done to join the worlds of healthcare and heritage together, to create a common language that professionals from both sectors can understand.

Imperial War Museum North’s if: Volunteering for wellbeing programme is the first major project to measure the impact of responsible volunteering in the heritage sector. The research uses a methodology called ‘Social Return on Investment’ to measure improved wellbeing in participants. The ongoing evaluation project will explore how volunteering can combat social and economic isolation and articulate the benefits for individuals, organisations and society.

The evaluation is seeking to find out exactly how the if: Volunteering for wellbeing project promotes individual wellbeing and how specifically volunteering in heritage venues contributes to this.

Using evidence like this, healthcare professionals and museum professionals will have more opportunities to link their work together. This could certainly be of benefit to the NHS, which is always looking for new methods of treating patients outside hospitals and other traditional healthcare spaces. It could benefit museums, who get to use their buildings and collections in new ways and demonstrate their relevance to society. And, most importantly, it’s of benefit for patients, who are able to access wellbeing healthcare in a new way too.

For those of us working in the heritage sector, we understand the feel-good factor that can come from a museum visit. Here’s hoping research like this will allow more people get to experience that too.

Inspiring museums

In Museums on February 26, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Inspiration is a word that comes up from time to time in museum talk. Museums and galleries often say they want to inspire people.
What do we mean by ‘inspiration’?

Dictionary definitions of inspiration talk about ‘supposed forces, influences, stimulation and arousal’. Well, I do believe that museums can have a strong and direct impact on our lives, but let’s hang on there a moment.

I think what we really mean when we talk about visitor inspiration in museums is that we want to motivate people to think something or do something.

It would be overambitious to suggest that museums need to ought to change people’s lives completely. Or that a visit to a museum is going to be the greatest thing you ever do. But given than museums hold unique things, often with amazing stories behind them, it’s not fanciful to think that objects can be agents of change in visitors’ lives.

Of course museums do hold lots of – how do I put this politely? – mundane or unsexy objects in their collections. (Note, I’ve not used the word ‘boring’ – one person’s pot sherd is another person’s PhD.) And there’s no reason to suggest that every object is going to be a life changer.

But surely our objects – and the ways in which we interpret them – can be inspirational.

We could inspire our visitors to do rather simple things like buying a book (or a piece of fudge in the shape of a sarcophagus) in the gift shop; going to a website; doing some independent follow-up research; having a conversation etc. Or we could even seek to inspire people to join a movement; to go on a journey; to pursue a career; to change the world; to start a revolution.

Okay, I got a bit carried away again there. But you get the point.

Museums can do more than just giving people didactic learning outcomes. Let’s be inspirational and communicate much more than just plain old knowledge.

People watching in museums

In Museums on January 9, 2016 at 10:35 am

We all love doing it. Taking a step back and just watching people. They do the strangest things. And we’re curious about what they do. Most people probably do it while waiting in a train station or a shop queue, for example. It’s fascinating to observe what’s going on around us and how people react to certain situations.

Social scientists do it for a living. And I’m lucky enough to get to do it in museums and heritage sites. Visitor observation is a key tool as part of audience research. Some researchers call it ‘legitimised snooping’ or ‘authorised stalking’, but I see it more as a chance to really watch what people do and how they do it.

When we ask visitors a question as part of an audience research project they sometimes try and tell  us the answers they think we want to hear – and that’s an understood a limitation of any social research. The great thing about observation is that visitor doesn’t know it’s happening, so we can get real raw data. Of course, where we get the chance we like to follow up with visitors and complete a face-to-face interview, so we can marry up what we’ve observed with what people tell us as well.

But sometimes, just like when you’re watching people in supermarket queue, we get rumbled. Every found yourself having to look away from a situation, just as it was getting interesting, because the person you’re watching has realised?  There’s quite a skill to observing people and not letting on. I’ve learned, over the years, how to watch people from afar, to look at them through display cases and to check their progress in a reflected window.

Some might say it’s sneaky – I say it’s research.

Watching what visitors do enables us to spot the sticking points in a museum visit. If we see that families don’t know what to do with their prams, it’s time to install a buggy park. If they can’t find their way around, we need to look at mapping and signage again. And if they’re walking past great objects without stopping, maybe it’s time to look at our displays again.

By understanding our visitors’ behaviour we can build up a better picture of what’s going on in their minds. And that helps us to create even better visitor experiences in the future.

The joy of text

In Museums on November 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Someone told me recently ‘I can’t write.’

She can write – I’ve received emails from her and I once even saw her use a pen. I think she meant she doesn’t think she can write. I don’t believe this for a second.

I don’t consider myself very (at all) good at drawing. But I can still pick up a pencil and have a go at making a mark. That doesn’t make me an artist, but I can draw.

The same is true for writing, I think. While we might not be writers, many of us write every day – much more often than we pick up a pencil and draw. Updating a facebook status, making a shopping list, emailing a friend or colleague.

We write more and more text digitally today, of course, which means that when we write we are actually often typing on a physical or virtual, rather than writing. And maybe that perpetuates the myth that we’re not writers, but actually typists.

We’re constantly learning about how we write text, honing our skills all the time, without even noticing what we’re doing. I teach a course about museum text – I’m part way through a series of workshops about writing display copy for a museum which is about to embark on writing a whole new gallery. It can be a good time to stand back and look again at the process of how we put text together in the heritage sector and who we are actually writing for. It’s interesting to take museum people through the process of museum writing. The majority of copy is generated digitally, of course, but visitors will see it in a whole range of different outputs – from panels and labels to touchscreens, multimedia guides, projected on the wall and sewn into the carpet.

As part of the course we review lots of examples of text from other museums, which I’ve gathered together over the years. It’s all rather fun as we get to be (constructively) critical of other people’s work and, ultimately, come up with a ‘voice’ for the a project.

While I am passionate about words and text, I find that sometimes when I’m in a cultural institution I find it difficult to switch off my professional brain – I have to remember that I’m at play, not at work. Rather than enjoying an interpretive experience I find myself looking at interpretation, words, font, lighting, production techniques and the like, rather than immersing myself in the experience. And in the text. I should be bathing in the words, not judging them.

And so, from here on, I am going to try and embrace the joy of text as a treat. Words need to be a treat, rather than a work commodity.

We’re all writers. Never say you can’t write. Power to the words.

What did you un-learn at the museum today?

In Museums on October 28, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Museums spend a lot of time thinking about ‘learning’.

Learning is a loaded word, of course, with connotations of school, teachers and exercise books. And there has been plenty of good work done in the last decade or so to overturn that.

In a heritage setting we now think of learning as something much more than simply acquiring new knowledge or facts. The question ‘what did you learn at the museum today?’ has been almost eradicated from audience research questionnaires, at last.
Instead we think of learning as more holistic. The imparting and receiving of new knowledge and information, yes. But also of the exploration of understanding, insight, values, feelings and attitudes. Museums are places we can be inspired – to act, to create, to take on new skills, to dream. And all of this, I reckon, is learning.

So I was intrigued to see the word ‘un-learning’ the other day – the idea that we can change the way we think about something we already claim to ‘know’ and to re-learn it as something else.

I wonder whether un-learning ought to be something we add to the museum agenda?

Of course the museum can be an agent for helping people to think differently. Visitor outcomes – the objectives we set ourselves for what people will experience as part of a visit – are often written in a way that affects some form of attitudinal shift. Using objects with powerful emotional, historical or scientific stories, we can seek to alter the way people think about a subject.  Visitors might ‘un-learn’ in this scenario.

And we can also un-learn behaviours and attitudes towards heritage and history. I love it when I see a visitor who didn’t really intend to have a good time in a heritage setting, engaging to a high level and clearly enjoying themselves. Challenging preconceptions of a museum visit is just as much un-learning as is addressing misconceptions.

Some will debate whether ‘un-learning’ is learning. But I think I might start adding it to my checklist of visitor outcomes when I’m planning how to engage with visitors in the future.

How we evaluate what people have unlearned? That’s a different matter …

Exploring indie arts in Manchester

In Museums on May 28, 2015 at 1:47 pm

I’ve recently relocated from London to Manchester. First stop for me, in any new city, is to check out the cultural life.

Think of Manchester and you’ll think of some great museums (IWM North, Museum of Science and Industry, People’s History Museum, Whitworth etc) as well as the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Halle at the Bridgewater Hall.

But I’m quickly finding that there’s more to Manchester than mainstream offerings. In just a couple of weeks I’ve come across a few independent gems already.

Nexus Art Café in the northern quarter is a charming spot to hang out. I’d previously thought of it as just a place for coffee, cake and a chat amongst mismatched tablecloths and organic tea. But then I was invited to see an exhibition there. BMC Art Collective is a group of students from Stockport who have displayed their work in the back room of this café. Taking music as a starting point, the artists have responded in different media – textiles, graphic art, illustration – and in a range of styles. And just to underline how non-mainstreatm they are, they’ve mounted this show in an underground zine library. An art collective in a zine library in a basement. It’s like a Russian doll of alternative culture.

Around the corner Manchester Craft and Design Centre is home to 30+ artists, working, displaying and selling their works in a converted Victorian market building. It’s fun to skulk around the place, watching artists and craftspeople paint, etch, carve and glaze products right in front of your eyes. Just be careful not to take too much spare cash, or you’ll be coming home with tote bags filled with canvasses, jewellery and ceramics. But do stop in at their café for some Guinness and Whisky cake.

Slightly more mainstream is the talk of the city’s cultural offering right now: HOME. Whatever the political wranglings over how it came to be, HOME is offering a range of artistic programming that is enticing audiences in and giving them much more than cinema blockbusters. I’ve already seen two pieces of world cinema and their opening theatre production The Funfair. The play is not only impressive as a performance, but also a sign that HOME intends not to play it safe when compiling a programme – it’s a bold and, some might say, daring first piece which has surprised audiences.

Here’s to more surprises in Manchester.

50 museums in 50 days

In Awards, Museums on April 14, 2015 at 9:28 am

I’ve just returned home from a trip around the globe – and I reached my goal of visiting 50 museums in 50 days. It was touch and go for a while, but like Phileas Fogg I just made it. Here’s my summing up of the trip (which is actually just me showing off) …

Best museum bar – Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, mostly for the view over the bridge and opera house.

Most jaw-dropping interior – the Alhambra. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so beautiful.

Finest collection – National Gallery of Australia is just packed with hit after hit. Such a shame that it’s locked away in Canberra where nobody goes (apart from civil servants and museum geeks.)

Tea room of the trip – not an easy category to judge. While the Museum of Australia and Hong Kong Maritime Museum both have a great views from their terraces, there’s no beating the splendid vista from the Getty Villa.

Best guided tour – Susannah Place Museum. Definitely take this tour if you’re in Sydney. Be sure to call in advance and book.

Surprise of the trip – Australians know how to do museums

Weirdest display – For years this would normally have been taken by the Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles), but perhaps the crying wooden statues next to the bed where St John of God died (Granada) were the most full on. Or the home butchery and blood-letting display at the folk museum in Seville. Or the Mars Attacks display in Hong Kong’s space museum. Hmm, tough one to call. I’ll just have to go again in search of more.

If you can deal with any more museological gloating, here’s the full list of 50 museums I visited. I hope it makes you jealous:

Sepulveda Block Museum, Los Angeles
América Tropical Interpretive Centre, Los Angeles
Avila Adobe, Los Angeles
Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles
Japanese American Museum, Los Angeles
LA Firefighting Museum, Los Angeles
Getty Villa, Malibu
Wende Museum, Culver City
Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Catalina Island Museum, Avalon
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
USS Hornet, San Francisco
SFO Airport Museum, San Francisco
Maritime Museum, Hong Kong
Art Central, Hong Kong
Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum, Hong Kong
Space Museum, Hong Kong
Museum of Art, Hong Kong
Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
Anzac Memorial Museum, Sydney
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Museum of Sydney, Sydney
Susannah Place Museum, Sydney
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney
Cockatoo Island, Sydney
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Canberra Museum and Gallery, Canberra
National Museum of Australia, Canberra
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
National Library of Australia, Canberra
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
National Film and Video Archive, Canberra
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Archives, Canberra
Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra
Immigration Museum, Melbourne
Melbourne Old Gaol, Melbourne
Melbourne Museum, Melbourne
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
Museo Reine Sofia, Madrid
XIII-Century House, Cordoba
Archaeological Museum, Seville
Museum of Popular Art and Folk Culture, Seville
Museo de la Real Maestranza de Caballera, Seville
General Archives of the Indies, Seville
The Chain House, Cadiz
Museo de San Juan de Deos, Granada
Alhambra, Granada

Right, back to the real world.