With all the lamentation about the past year on the internet recently (if I read “damn you 2016” one more time, I may explode from the repetitiveness), I felt inspired to highlight 10 great things that happened in the museum world this year.
After shutting (and demolishing) its doors in 2013 for a major expansion project, SFMOMA re-opened on May 14 2016 with three times more gallery space, 45,000 square feet of free public art space, and guaranteed free admission for visitors under 18 forever. Residents and visitors in San Francisco will be thrilled to have use of this great museum again, now better than ever.
The massive expansion of London’s Tate Modern art gallery was finally opened to the public in June this year. The Switch House, as the new extension is called, adds 60% more exhibition space to the gallery and yet another architectural marvel to enjoy in central London. Here’s the best part – it’s still completely free to visit.
OK, so maybe this story isn’t the most important museum development, but it sure is heartwarming. The Xi’an Beilin Museum in Shaanxi province, China is home to a beloved community of stray cats. But after a visitor complaint in July, the museum announced it would remove and re-home the animals. Luckily for the kitties, thousands of people joined an internet campaign to allow the cats to remain. Museum staff were “moved” by the reaction and reversed their decision. A small but memorable example of public activism informing museum policy!
Nearly 170 years after Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage, Parks Canada and collaborators discovered the wreck of the HMS Terror in the Canadian Arctic Ocean in September. The Terror was the only remaining ship of Franklin’s still missing. The other vessel HMS Erebus had been found in 2014. The mission to find Franklin’s two ships, which are significant to Canadian, British, and Inuit history, began in 2008. I can’t wait until some of the salvaged artefacts will be ready for public display.
Thirteen years after the concept was authorised by then US President George W Bush, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was finally opened on September 24 in Washington DC by President Barack Obama, lead architect David Adjaye, and other influential figures. The museum fills a significant gap in the Smithsonian’s offer and is, in the words of President Obama, “central to the American story.” So far NMAAHC has received rave reviews. I personally can’t wait to visit next time I am in town.
In October, France’s Minister of Culture and Communication promised to “substantially” increase funding for museums and galleries. She acknowledged that French museums are facing new challenges because of security concerns, and pledged a 5% increase in museum funding and a 12% increase for new object acquisitions. This new budget will be the largest ever dedicated to the arts in the nation’s history, and should hopefully help French museums attract more visitors.
From a women’s prison to Victorian lampposts to 18th-century artificial beehives, Historic England added more than 1000 new places to its growing list of protected heritage sites in 2016. This will ensure the survival of more historically significant places for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
If you head straight for the fossil displays when you visit a museum, then this story is for you. In December Lida Xing and colleagues from the China University of Geosciences reported their discovery of fragments of a dinosaur tail in amber, complete with visible feathers! The fragments, found in Myanmar, are the first of their kind to be discovered in amber. Hopefully there are even more exciting dinosaur discoveries in 2017.
UK museums will now benefit from a 40% increase in Museum of the Year prize money, the Art Fund charity announced in December. Adding to the existing £100,000 pot for first place, four runner-up museums will now receive £10,000 each. The Fund is also looking to support shortlisted museums to expand opportunities for visitors with autism and dementia. Thanks for spreading the love, Art Fund!
Barbara Jatta, Italian art historian and long-term employee of the Vatican, will be the new head of the renowned Vatican Museums. At just 54 years of age (relatively young to be head of a large museum), she is more than 20 years younger than the current director, 77-year-old Antonio Paolucci. Hopefully Jatta will bring new, exciting perspectives to this traditional institution. The Vatican Museums includes the Sistine Chapel and is one of the largest museums in the world with 4.35 miles of exhibition space. The Vatican announced Jatta’s appointment on December 20.
What other great museum news from 2016 have I missed? Add it in the comments or tweet me @aehibbins.
P.S. This list is ordered by chronology, not significance.