10 Reasons 2016 was Great for Museums

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.

1. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art re-opens after three year closure

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.

2. Tate Modern’s Switch House expansion is completed

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.


The new Switch House extension at Tate Modern, August 2016. Author’s photo.

3. Xi’an Beilin Museum’s resident cats saved from eviction

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!

4. Sir John Franklin’s missing shipwreck HMS Terror is discovered

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.

5. The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens at last

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.

6. France increases cultural funding to €2.9 billion

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.


Still plenty of tourists (like me) at the Louvre, December 2016. Author’s photo.

7. Over 1000 heritage sites placed on Historic England’s protection list

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.


Brighton Pier, a protected historic site, August 2016. Author’s photo.

8. Feathered dinosaur tail is discovered in Myanmar

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.

9. The Art Fund increases prize money for Museum of the Year award

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!

10. Vatican Museums appoints its first female director

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.


Vatican Museums entrance, July 2015. Author’s photo.

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.


2 thoughts on “10 Reasons 2016 was Great for Museums

  1. I very much enjoyed reading your summary of 2016 where museums/collections were concerned. I’m particularly pleased SF:MOMA is back up and running, and I’m happy you saw that both of Franklin’s ships had now been found (although there’s some controversy now about permits, who allowed what, and some noses bent).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      SFMOMA does sound very exciting and I can’t wait to visit next time I am lucky enough to be in California.

      Yes, it will be interesting where the objects from Franklin’s ships actually end up. As a Canadian I am biased, but I do hope the majority of items remain in Canada, as many British museums seem to have a preponderance of artefacts from around the world already! Although Franklin was a Brit and the expedition funded by the British government, the history seems to be much more important to Canadian identity than British.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s