Museums at Night Launch!

Well, I promised an update, so here it is!

Thursday saw the launch of Museums at Night, and Culture 24 very kindly invited me to the "Grand Opening", which was great fun, I have to say! There were lots of lovely and friendly people there, and it was great to hear about all the projects that are going on across the country. Support came from Andrew Collins, who is helping to promote the Museums at Night Campaign - you can read the interview Culture 24 did with him here. It's nice when people actually care, as he seemed to do. Speaking of people who care, former Culture Secretary Chris Smith was also there, and it is clear that even though he is no longer in that post, he still works hard for us. So there's hope, there's hope, my children...

Anyway, back to the evening. It was held at the new Florence Nightingale Museum, which will open on the same weekend as the main Museums at Night events, so I got a sneaky peak. There are some really interesting pieces in the displays, actually - notably the artwork "Notes on Nursing", which is intended to remind visitors that Florence Nightingale did more than work in the Crimea. When she returned home from the war, she lived on until 1910, spending much of that time ill in bed, yet tirelessly writing and campaigning on a huge number of issues, including nursing. There's something melancholy about this artwork, yet it is very, very beautiful.

Actually, the museum itself is a particularly interesting example of invention in a small space. Located on the grounds of St Thomas' hospital, it has really limited room in which to store and display what it holds. In order to give some interest in the space, the designers have divided it into three pods. The first of these depicts Florence's early life, the second the war in the Crimea, and the final one the return home, and her work thereafter. All around the surrounding wall of the main room are ranged photographs of nurses and nursing activities from various periods, interspersed with video interviews which tell some interesting and sometimes painful stories. Each of the pods is built from, or covered with, a different material, which each have significance in terms of the overall character of the pod. The first is a privet hedge - yes, I was initially puzzled too, but came to believe that it represented the gilded cage in which Florence and her sister grew up. The second is covered in eastern style tiles, reminiscent of the style of the Crimea, the third made from bookshelves which represent her later retreat into the world of letters. Throughout there are peepholes through which the visitor can look and explore photographs and stories outside the main narrative. And for those of you who don't hate audio-guides, stethoscopes are provided for you to put against lighted points in the walls to hear what they have to say. And yes, there are costumed interpreters.

Have to say, it makes a great space for a party, with places you can closet yourself off in and wonder around. And of course, when that is accompanied with wine, a harpist, and magician and a sihlouettist the result can only be good.

So go to a Museums at Night event near you! I reckon you'll have a good time, whatever the event.


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