The Grant Museum’s Third Birthday
By Jack Ashby, on 14 March 2014
History is a funny thing – we can create a boundary in time, hit reset, and restart the clock whenever we like. We did exactly that three years ago tomorrow, when the Grant Museum 2.0 reopened in our current location on 15th March 2011. In truth we are one of the oldest natural history collections in the country – founded in 1828 (or possibly 1827), but it took a while to become more than just a mass of specimens, and only became a Museum with a capital M in 1997. Reset has been hit a number of times in the past 186 years, but here we celebrate the latest counter ticking round to Three.
The year in numbers
20624 visitors during normal opening hours (up 25% on last year)
15999 participants in our events (up 60% on last year)
5141 school and FE students in museum classes
2454 university students in museum classes
216 objects accessioned
138 blog posts
12 Underwhelming Fossil Fish
1 most inspiring museum in the UK
0 objects acquired
We may be a dusty Victorian collection in an Edwardian library, but we didn’t let that stop us in Year 2 when we won the Museums + Heritage Award for Innovation in 2012 for our ground-breaking QRator project. Addicted to the limelight, we didn’t want Year 3 to be any less dazzling, first we were thrilled to have been short-listed for European Museum of the Year. When we then won Guardian Cultural Pros Pick at the Museum + Heritage Awards – a public vote to find the UK’s most inspiring museum we were genuinely humbled.
It would be a lot to hope we could keep on bringing home trophies but we certainly wont stop trying. (I’ve actually put the Micrarium in for the best new permanent exhibition of the year, but that category also includes every new museum that opened in 2013. I quite like that our little ex-cupboard will be competing against whole new Museums, but we’ll see what the panel think).
Tapping UCL’s Minds
The best thing about being a university museum is that we are surrounded by thousands of brilliant minds full of creative, innovative ideas. We try and make as much use of them as we can, as you’ll know if you come to our events. This year we have had two exhibitions which relied on creative ideas from the UCL community. Over the summer Sculpture Season asked 13 undergraduate sculpture students from UCL’s Slade School of Fine Art to take over the museum and fill it with their responses to the collection.
At the moment we have the Darwin (or) Bust exhibition – where members of UCL’s Institute of Making were asked to recreate a bust we have of Charles Darwin from 3D scan data. The results are amazing. We have Darwins reimagined in ants, chocolate, light, mirrors, carved from his own words, crochet and DNA. It runs until 2nd April. This video from the exhibition of a new bust being milled by a giant robotic arm in UCL’s CADCAM workshop is quite remarkable:
Inside our heads
As I said Team Grant have written 138 blog posts in the past year. This blog, therefore is a pretty good indication of what goes on inside the head of people who work here. Here are some of the highlights of the questions we’ve been asking the world:
- What do we know about the Curators that came before us?
- Is Archaeopteryx a bird or not?
- Do Dodo Bones Belong in a Museum?
- Why are all natural history museums the same? NATURAL HISTORY BINGO
- What’s the best natural history specimen in the world? (and did it get thrown on a fire? (No))
- Can we assess how popular specimens are by measuring visitor filth?
- Would zoologists survive an apocalypse?
- Will a museum studies degree help you get a job in a museum?
Like most three year olds we are interested in lots of things, excitable, experimental and in an almost permanent state of hope. The year ahead is looking pretty good from here. Thanks to all the visitors who’ve allowed us to make the past year such a good one for the Grant Museum.
Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.