Museums boom as the dust disappears

THIS MORNING, 380 Cubs - 379 boys and one girl - will wake up in sleeping-bags tucked between space rockets and steam engines on the gallery floors of the Science Museum in London. Last night they learned about hot-air balloons and built one. Today's subject is electricity.

This is no elaborate 'bob- a-job' ritual but part of the museum's Science Nights, in which children camp overnight on the premises and, through a series of demonstrations, exercises and films, learn the rudiments of science.

The Science Museum is one of Britain's booming museums. In 1850 there were just 60 of them but in the past 30 years numbers have nearly trebled from 870 to about 2,500.

According to the Museums and Galleries Commission - the museum equivalent of the Arts Council - a new or refurbished building opens every fortnight.

Peter Longman, director of the commission, believes this rise owes much to Britain's squirrel-like hoarding of the past. 'We like to collect things and preserve them,' he said. 'Local people have a sense of pride in their town's history. I've seen museums open and half their collection walk in off the street after the first week.'

While the South Kensington complex of the Victoria & Albert, Science, Natural History and Geology museums still dominates the field, it is the growth of independent, specialist museums which has been remarkable in recent years.

Virtually every conceivable passion, from lawnmowers to stained-glass windows, now has a museum dedicated to it. There is a Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, Cumbria; the Fan Museum in Greenwich, south-east London, has proved immensely popular since its opening three years ago; and a 'Draining the Fens' exhibition at Pinchbeck, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, is drawing the crowds.

But Mr Longman also believes that the nation has become much more sophisticated culturally, thanks mainly to expanding media coverage of the arts. 'Take the Picasso exhibition at the Tate. They were queuing round the corner after the season of programmes on television. Now that wouldn't have happened five years ago.'

With competition from such other leisure attractions as Alton Towers and the Chessington World of Adventures, museums and galleries have also had to be more aggressive in efforts to attract visitors. That most venerable of institutions, the V&A, led the way with its much-criticised advertising slogan 'The V&A - an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached', but the populist approach appears to have worked.

Around 80 million people now visit galleries and museums each year. According to the British Tourist Authority, the British Museum is the most popular attraction in the UK, with 6.3 million visitors a year, while seven of the top 10 attractions are museums or galleries.

The days of dusty exhibits in dustier display cases in poorly lit galleries are long gone. Marketing techniques, interactive displays, shops and better restaurants have helped to attract the crowds.

Tony Hirst, chairman of the Association of Independent Museums, said the independent sector, which accounts for around a half of Britain's museums and galleries, had been mainly responsible for precipitating change.

While independent museums benefit from limited grants and subsidies, they cannot rely on these to survive. Instead they have been driven by the imperative to make money and by awareness that, to justify charging for admission, visitors expect more than glass-case exhibits with explanatory notes on adjacent panels.

Mr Longman also pointed out the importance of this approach. 'If you look at the typical person running a gallery these days, they're pretty lively - they know how to make contact with the local media, they understand the importance of fund-raising and marketing. Ten or 15 years ago, you could get away with being a scholar because it didn't matter whether people came.'

But for all the bullish talk, Mr Hirst foresees trouble ahead. While visitors to museums have increased overall, the average number visiting each museum has fallen - from 72,000 in 1978 to about 43,000 in 1992.

More worryingly, the numbers attending fee-paying museums have fallen by nearly 20 per cent since 1987. There are simply not enough customers to go round, thinks Mr Hirst.

'No sooner does a pit close in Yorkshire than the local town sets about turning it into a museum. And there are only so many mining museums you can take. There is a fragile economy for museums and before long there's going to be a major sort- out.

'There's duplication of collections all over the country and I do not believe there is the money to maintain all those objects for the next 20 years.'

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
people

Far-right organisation has defended its actions on Facebook

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

Science Teacher

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

Cover Supervisor

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker