It’s been a funny old year for us at Elgin Museum (as it has for everyone!). For probably the first time since we opened in 1843, this year Elgin Museum has not been open to visitors.
After a typically busy winter period 2019-20, all of our volunteers and our 3 P/T members of staff had to abandon ship in early March leaving the building in a state comparable to the Mary Celeste (I’d like to say without the water, but sadly we have an ongoing issue of a leaky roof!). Two of our staff were put on furlough, with our Education & Outreach Officer working from home and continuing to deliver activities for our younger audience, albeit online instead of in person. An Emergency Executive Committee of 4 of our Board Members was assembled, and this team has worked tirelessly throughout the year dealing with the day-to-day issues faced by a Museum as well as the various difficulties arising from the COVID-19 situation.
Our Education and Outreach Officer left us in August to take up a teacher training offer – seeing the writing on the wall for museum sector employment? However, thanks to some dedicated volunteers we have been able to carry on offering various children’s activities through our website and social media channels. Our remaining 2 P/T members of staff returned to work in October, following a detailed risk assessment of the building and the implementation of various mitigation measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the Museum. And from mid-November, we began to welcome a small number of Volunteers back to the Museum to assist with an Inventory Project – though it’s quite a different place to work in now than when they left back in March.
Our biggest challenge this year has been having to switch our focus to digital content, albeit with the heavy-hearted awareness that this may exclude some of our regular audience. However, we have been delighted to welcome a new audience who before 2020 were not aware of, nor able to visit, Elgin Museum.
Moving to online activities and events has been a big shift, but our volunteers have risen to the challenge. Our social media channels (see links at end) continue to go from strength to strength; we’ve added a wide variety of family-friendly activities to our website so people can “Museum From Home”; we launched our blog “Museum Musings”, featuring short pieces written by our volunteers; creating an online jigsaw page ; and we started a regular “cheery update” to be sent out by email to all of our volunteers, Moray Society members, and other friends of the Museum.
We’ve also expanded our YouTube Channel with “virtual” tours of some of our exhibitions, our family-friendly craft series “Elgin Museum Makes”, and we’ve recently begun our traditional Winter Lecture Series online and in a new format. “Elgin Museum: In Conversation” replaces our usual lecture programme, and instead sees us talking with Friends of the Museum to gain insight on their life, career and connections with Moray and Elgin Museum. Our first episode featured Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collection at the University of Aberdeen – and who could have guessed at Neil’s secret passion for plumbing? Our next interviewees are John Borland, president of the Pictish Arts Society (and formerly Measured Survey Manager at HES), followed by Craig Stanford, Archaeology and World Heritage Officer at HES (formerly the NTS St Kilda Archaeologist). Subscribe to our YouTube Channel so you don’t miss our next Conversations!
Another first has been hosting our now annual Friends of Elgin Museum Art Exhibition online. The exhibition features photography, oil, acrylic and watercolour paintings, textile art, jewellery and relief prints. All of the items in the exhibition are available to purchase with a percentage of sales donated to both Elgin Museum and the NHS. There’s no denying it has been a huge amount of work (for the artists whose works feature in the exhibition, and for the volunteer who created the online exhibition!), but so far we have sold & shipped pieces to Nottingham, Dublin and Iowa, and it’s great that we’ve managed to reach an even broader audience than usual! The exhibition will continue on into the New Year, so there is still time explore and enjoy the wonderful arts and crafts of our very talented Volunteers and Moray Society Members from the comfort of your own home!
What next for Elgin Museum? Progress with our previous aspirations has slowed down with COVID-19 priorities, but we still aim to attract funding for a major buildings project, incorporating essential repairs with repurposing an empty retail property in our ownership and also to reinstate a manager/curator post. For now, we’ll “keep on keeping on”, as we wait to see how life will change in 2021. We’ll look towards when (and how) it might be possible for us to once again open our doors to visitors. We look forward to rescheduling our programme of events, originally planned as part of the Scottish Government’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 (now rebranded 2020/21) including our cancelled Fossil Finders Weekend and the new Elginerpeton fossil display.
In the meantime, we’ll continue expanding our digital presence with new content, encouraging people to visit Elgin Museum From Home. If you haven’t done so already, please look us up online or on social media (see links below) – and we look forward with anticipation to being able to welcome you in person to Elgin Museum.
Elgin Museum Volunteer, Vice-President of The Moray Society