Lottery cash to sweep museums into 21st century

Ministers want technology to make museums more accessible
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The Independent Online
Up to pounds 500m of National Lottery money is to be spent on technology to make museums more accessible to the public, the Government announced yesterday in its first full review of museum policy since the Thirties.

The money will be made available over the next four years. Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, said that, following changes in lottery rules, it could be used to put museums on the Internet.

The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Natural History Museum, all based in London, are accessible country-wide through Internet sites or CD-Roms, and Mrs Bottomley wants to see more use of information technology. The review aims at raising standards in museums and galleries, improving the stewardship of collections and access by the public, and enhancing museums' educational role.

"New technology will give greater opportunities to museums and galleries than ever before to look after their collections, and make them available to a much wider audience," Mrs Bottomley said.

In order to allow museums to use lottery money for such projects, the Government announced that it would bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity to give the National Heritage Memorial Fund wider powers.

The move is a recognition of the increasing sophistication of a public that has come to take for granted the use of technologically enhanced entertainment - the lack of which makes many British museums and galleries now appear woefully old-fashioned.

"This legislation will enable museums to take advantage of the new technology, not only to manage their collections but to present them in ways that are interesting and enjoyable for visitors. Quite rightly, today's visitors have high expectations and museums must innovate and adapt to satisfy them," Mrs Bottomley warned.

The review also recommends that direct funding of national museums by the Department of National Heritage should continue and that local authorities be encouraged to turn their museums into charitable trusts.

In a related development, Downing Street yesterday announced the appointment of Loyd Grossman, the food critic, to the Museums and Galleries Commission. The presenter of the BBC's television Masterchef series chairs his own Campaign for Museums, which he says exists to "remind opinion-formers that museums are a good thing".

Mr Grossman added yesterday: "I hope to bring the passion and enthusiasm of a lifetime of museum-going to my role as a member of the commission."