Museums never change, or do they?

Many people are put off museums because they seem to be static places full of dusty animals and obsolete objects. Others value the sense of continuity in a rapidly changing world – families often share the experience of galleries from one generation to the next.

Image, the original Manchester Museum and University building, designed by Alfred Waterhouse

Image, the new entrance to the Manchester Museum, opened in 2003

Behind the scenes however, museums are a bit like the proverbial swan – legs frantically paddling beneath the unruffled feathers. Museums are always looking for ways to update and enliven their displays, to keep them relevant and interesting to today’s visitors. The challenge is always how to introduce new ideas and methods of interpretation without losing the best of the old, and the bigger the project, the greater the challenge.

The museum is currently facing two huge challenges: in the next couple of years we will be clearing and redisplaying Animal Life 1 (also known as the Mammals Gallery) as well as Mediterranean Archaeology and our two Egypt galleries.

Living Planet will tackle issues that are in the news and on the school curriculum such as habitat loss, extinction and climate change with displays that are more interesting, exciting and thought-provoking. We will be revealing the original architecture and including even more stuffed animals – not just mammals. Particular favourites such as the Sperm Whale skeleton, Polar Bear and Tiger will certainly be there.

Image, the current Animal Life 1 gallery (also known as the 'Mammals gallery')

In the new ‘Ancient Worlds’ galleries you’ll be able to learn how archaeology has developed and what it means to us today, explore fascinating cultures from the distant past through the objects and writings they left behind or simply enjoy browsing hundreds of beautiful artefacts. Through the new displays you’ll encounter a whole range of people with expert knowledge and personal stories to tell. Some of them lived long ago but others are working in archaeology today.

Image, the Egypt gallery in 1912

Image, the Egypt After Life Gallery in 2010

We know these projects are going to test the museum’s capabilities and the patience of our visitors. There will be some disruption but we will do our best to maintain the highest quality experience for everyone. We’ll be adapting our programmes and putting procedures in place to help people find their way around the closed off areas.

Because Ancient Egypt is such a popular subject, especially for schools, we’re going to be developing a special temporary exhibition that will run from autumn 2011 for a year while the main galleries are closed.

As President Kennedy said in the 1960s: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard.” The scale is slightly different but change is always challenging. Like JFK we believe that the results will be worth it!

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