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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Happy Second Birthday Grant Museum – A Year in Review

By Jack Ashby, on 15 March 2013

Grant Museum version 2.0* opened in the Rockefeller two years ago today. Time sure flies and we are still calling it our “new home” (but then since we’ve been going for about 185 years I guess it’s all relative). I remember telling myself that after the trauma of the relocation things would quieten down, but actually our diaries are ever fuller and we’re proud to look back on another whopping great year in our fabulous little museum. Here are some highlights of the last twelve months…

The year in numbers
16151 visitors during normal opening hours
10148 participants in our events
6031 school and FE students in museum classes
3223 university students in museum classes
578 objects photographed
357 objects accessioned
118 objects acquired
104 blog posts
52 specimens of the week
20 loans
3 two-headed fresh livestock turned down
1 fewer anaconda than we started with.

Although there are only five of us here, we don’t like to think of ourselves as the little guys of the museum world. We pride ourselves on being open to try experimental and risky things. We were deeply honoured to have been awarded the Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence in Innovation for our QRator project. We were also nominated for “Project on a Limited Budget” at the same awards, but you can’t win them all.
We are also nominated for European Museum of the Year 2013. We wont hear about that until May.

The MicrariumThe Micrarium
Talking of innovation, we opened our Micrarium last month, displaying 2323 microscope slides in a beautiful back-lit cave. This is another first in museums. Microscope slides have always been problematic objects to display, and this installation is proving to be a very effective way of shedding light on them. At the same time, it tackles the issue of natural history museums being deeply unrepresentative of nature, by putting tiny animals in the limelight rather than the ever-present big beasts that only make up a small proportion of animal species.
Here’s a video about it.

DCMS Wolfson Museum Improvement Fund
The Micrarium was only one feature of a large project generously funded by this award. Elsewhere in the Museum we have been able to replace our old wooden shelving with glass, light more of our cases, renovate our foyer and reception, and most recently commission a huge artwork in the foyer. Sarah Cameron‘s Viewpoint has been made so that from the angle and height of the artist’s eye, the solid wall looks like a three dimensional specimen-filled cabinet, enticing the viewer – in a quest to align and distort the illusion – to a position of questioning.

Running in parallel to the Museum’s perceived role; the pursuit of taxonomic investigation, the shifting perspective of Viewpoint is indicative of the individual nature of peoples’ experiences of the collection. We’re really pleased to have been able to work with the UCL Slade School of Fine Art to think of our collection differently. Sarah Cameron’s piece was selected through a competition where all Slade students were invited to propose works.

Saturday Opening
Since the Autumn we have been open Monday-Saturday. This is something we have wanted to do for ages, and obviously something our visitors wanted. We were very pleased to find the resources to make this happen – it’s made a huge difference.

Police excavation in UCL QuadBuried on Campus
Last Spring we tackled a difficult topic through an exhibition co-curated with forensic osteologists here at UCL – Buried on Campus. It explored the research that has been taking place on over 7000 human remains that were unexpectedly uncovered by construction workers digging in the main UCL Quad in 2010.

What Museums Do
This blog is one of the ways that we are working to tell the stories of what life working in museums is really like, and to open them up to dialogue and debate with the outside world. We have made a concerted effort this year to push this, with projects like…

  • I Found This: a mini-installation about discoveries made by our staff.
  • Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month – a series about what happens when you do a tiny bit of research about some of our less glamorous objects.
  • It Came From the Stores was an event and blog series investigating what museums like ours have behind the scenes, what we can (or can’t) do with it,and why
  • Adding to the Grant Museum is a mini-installation looking at how and why we acquire new material. And more often than not why we don’t.

So all in all we’ve kept ourselves busy and had a fantastic year. There’s no reason to think the next one wont be even better. If there is anything you think we should be doing that we aren’t, do remember you can tell us on this blog, via Twitter or by emailing zoology.museum@ucl.ac.uk

*Prepare for complicated history…
The collection was founded in 1828 when Robert Edmond Grant started amassing specimens in the main UCL Wilkins Building with which to teach. It then moved at least four times ending up in our most recent home in the Darwin Building in 1997. At this point it became called “The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy”, so while technically there have been many versions of our institution, this is only the second one called The Grant Museum.

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