GAIRLOCH MUSEUM NAMED AS A WINNER OF ART FUND MUSEUM OF THE YEAR 2020

GAIRLOCH MUSEUM NAMED AS A WINNER OF ART FUND MUSEUM OF THE YEAR 2020

Gairloch Museum has been announced as a winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020, the most prestigious museum prize in the world. In a unique edition of the prize and in recognition of the unprecedented challenges that all museums face this year, five winning museums have been named. They will equally share the £200,000 award, a 40% rise over previous years. 

The winning museums are: Aberdeen Art Gallery (Aberdeen, Scotland); Gairloch Museum (Gairloch, Scotland); Science Museum (London, England); South London Gallery (London, England); Towner Eastbourne (Eastbourne, England). They are awarded based on their achievements in 2019 – 20.

Dr Karen Buchanan, Curator of Gairloch Museum commented:-

“The recognition that comes with this award brings our small, independent museum to the national stage.  With the prize money, we will be able to invest in our planned outdoor museum space and procure expertise and equipment to redesign our events and outreach programme for a sustainable, digital future.   We rely on tourism to our small community.  Our Art Fund Museum of the Year status will boost visitor numbers in 2021, when our must-see event will be an exhibition of the art of Alison Dunlop RSW, celebrating the rugged beauty of the Shiants – the enchanted isles of the Minch.”

Today’s announcement kicks off a week-long celebration featuring live-streamed talks, events and digital activity, giving an inspiring opportunity to get involved with museums all over the country. 

The judges, Jago Cooper (Curator of the Americas, The British Museum), Dame Liz Forgan (Trustee, Art Fund), Ryan Gander (artist), Melanie Keen (Director, The Wellcome Collection) and Jenny Waldman (Director, Art Fund), reflected: 

“The story of the rebirth of this truly special museum, nestled on the remote north-westerly coast of Scotland, captivated the judges; a tale of people-power, determination, and local pride. The museum’s move in 2019 to a new home – not a grand new build but a repurposed nuclear bunker – transformed a village eyesore into an important visitor attraction.  It was the culmination of an 8 year, £2.4 million redevelopment project made possible by more than 120 volunteers.  The redisplay of the museum’s collection which encapsulates the history, culture, beauty and character of Gairloch and its new home have reanimated the village’s pride in its heritage, created a buzzing new community hub, and produced a sustainable cultural landmark for generations of visitors to enjoy.”

Jenny Waldman, Director of Art Fund, said: “Congratulations to Gairloch Museum. The five Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 winners are exceptional examples of museums offering inspiration, reflection and joy in the heart of communities. The UK’s museums – admired worldwide and vital locally – were thriving before Covid-19. Now they can help rebuild our communities and confidence as we emerge from the virus.” 

Dr Karen Buchanan, Gairloch Museum’s Curator, will reflect on the museum’s achievements as part of a panel discussion at 11am on Tuesday 13 October, featuring all the winners of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 and Art Fund Director Jenny Waldman. Produced in association with The Art Newspaper and led by art critic and podcast host Ben Luke, registration can be made here https://art-fund.arttickets.org.uk/art-fund/2020-10-13-meet-the-winners-art-fund-museum-of-the-year

As part of the week-long celebration, Gairloch Museum is also holding a three-day archaeological dig at one of the Achtercairn Roundhouses, located just behind the museum (Wednesday October 14th, Thursday October 15thand Friday October 16th). On Thursday October 15th, local researcher, historian and Museum Director Jeremy Fenton will give a talk, describing the changes to and impact on the Gairloch area as transport links improved in the region through time. 

Other highlights of the week include Outlander star Sam Heughan reading a beloved folktale from the West Highlands of Scotland, pertinent to Gairloch Museum’s collection and local histories. Aberdeen Art Gallery will unveil Spotify playlists reflecting the museum’s collection. Towner Eastbourne will hold a daily ‘digital mindfulness retreat’ tapping into the beauty of the museum’s location and collection. South London Gallery will reveal a new poem inspired by Walter Crane’s wooden panel at the Gallery stating, ‘The source of art is in the life of a people’. The Science Museum will release a series of ‘Secret Science Club’ films on Instagram in collaboration with influencer Anna B that will explore the amazing experiments you can see in the museum’s Wonderlab: The Equinox Gallery. Find out more www.artfund.org/museum-of-the-year– add @artfund and #museumoftheyear 

VisitScotland has welcomed the news of the award as a boost to tourism in the North of Scotland.  Chris Taylor, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, said: 

“I am thrilled that Gairloch Museum has been chosen as one of only two Scottish winners of Art Fund’s prestigious Museum of the Year award.  I would also like to extend my congratulations to the other Scottish winner, Aberdeen Art Gallery. Both are equally-deserving of this accolade, demonstrating that their work over the previous year has stood out way beyond that of their competitors. 2019 was a transformational year for Gairloch Museum. At the heart of its relocation and reopening has been a huge community effort from a fantastic volunteer base, to successfully secure £2.4 million in funding to redevelop and transform a disused nuclear bunker into such a fantastic new visitor attraction and community hub. For such a small community, this is very inspirational. The Museum has further strengthened the cultural offering for visitors to the Highlands during what has been a hugely challenging year for the tourism industry.”

Wondering what to do with the kids this October? Try a Museum!

Wondering what to do with the kids this October? Try a Museum!

This year’s October holidays are going to be a bit different. The weather is less reliable than in the summer months and in normal times we’d visit more indoor activities – the pool, soft play, theatre, museum. This year many things are not open and therefore choices are pretty limited. And those that are open you may be wary of visiting as the Covid-19 crisis continues or  are worried about what the experience will be like with lots of restrictions in place. As a lover of museums I was keen to get back, but with two young kids I was worried both about how safe we would feel, but also if touching and interacting was off the table, then keeping a 2 year old and 6 year old engaged would be very difficult.

I was wrong and write today to reassure you that a museum visit this October is a great way to entertain your little ones! I visited two museums in September – Gairloch Museum and Highland Folk Museum and was reassured that fun and learning could still be had in a safe way!

Gairloch is a traditional museum – in that it is indoors with a series of rooms telling different stories from history that relate to the Gairloch area. As per Scottish Government guidance all of us over 5 had to wear a mask entering the museum and wash our hands. We were greeted by a volunteer who explained the one way system, provided us with a guide and asked us not to enter a room while another family was there. Now, my 6 year old was happy wearing his mask in the reception area, but as we moved round the museum he got hot and wanted to remove it – I had suspected this would happen and raised it with the museum beforehand. As they were asking for one household only in each gallery we agreed that at ‘pinch points’ like the reception area or going to the toilet we would insist he wore his mask, but when we were in the gallery on our own with no other households we let him remove his. We kept ours on at all times.

Gairloch has also got the balance of what kids (and adults!) can still interact with and what  they can’t exactly right. If it is a delicate, historic object that is difficult to clean then touching is a big no-no (quite rightly), but for their interactives you were provided with wipes and hand santiser to use before and after any touching. This was fantastic. You felt confident that everything was clean and safe, while also ensuring that the museum visit was fun and engaging for your young child. My boys loved it and had such a fab time – we passed an hour, learned a lot and had fun!

Playing on the earthquake maker!

The Highland Folk Museum is an outdoor museum so social distancing and the like are a bit easier. Obviously you still make sure you stay 2m from anyone else visiting and if you go into any of the indoor bits, then please do put on your mask, but aside from that it all felt perfectly normal! You can explore old croft houses, shops, school and tool yards while also burning some energy on a good Highland walk and there is a playpark and picnic benches. So much for adults and kids to both enjoy and it is easy to spend half a day there.

In essence, a day out at a Highland Museum is a great way to entertain the kids this October – no matter their age! Please visit our page on what museums are open to help plan your great day out! https://museumsandheritagehighland.org.uk/highland-museum-re-opening-plans

 

Re-opening Gairloch Museum – A familiar journey

Re-opening Gairloch Museum – A familiar journey

Almost exactly one year ago, staff and volunteers at Gairloch Museum were putting the final touches to their new museum before its official opening. Scroll forward a year and the picture is a similar one.  After a very successful first nine months, during which it welcomed more than 10,000 visitors, the museum was forced to close for almost four months due to coronavirus.  Staff were furloughed and only returned to work at the beginning of July, after the Scottish Government announced its accelerated timetable for restarting tourism.  Since then it has been all hands on deck to get the museum open.  It has taken three weeks but we are almost there.

The first stage of the process was to set up a task force for reopening.  This has been led by Curator Karen Buchanan and includes front of house staff and volunteers with responsibility for retail and maintenance.  A risk assessment identified that the museum could reopen subject to some changes, the majority of which were in the areas of ticketing and cleaning.  It was also necessary to review display areas taking into consideration the risk of spreading Covid-19 through touch.

In order to reduce contact between visitors, it was decided to assign groups of visitors (e.g. families or couples) to slots and to introduce a one-way system for their circulation.  The display areas can accommodate a maximum of one group in each of the five galleries at any one time.  Using this system, groups should not come into contact with one another other than at pinch points such as the entrance and staircase.  Here barriers and passing places have been used to separate two directional traffic.  Consideration was also given to how to ensure only one group is using the toilet and shop at a time.

It was decided to use the Art Fund’s ‘Art Tickets’ booking facility for advance booking of slots.  This option was chosen as it is free for museums to use, and was a system we had already considered being involved with.  Art Fund have been overwhelmed with new users of Art Tickets, but have done a fantastic job getting us onto the system quickly and signing us up for training webinars.  As we open, we will be taking telephone and email bookings, but hope to transition soon to Art Tickets when we are more confident in using it. We will try to accommodate those who have not pre-booked and turn up on spec and they will need to supply the details required for Test and Protect.  From 9-10am we will only allow 2 groups in and reserve these slots for members and vulnerable people.

We have gone for a two prong approach as regards touching objects. We have signed just about everything.  Either it is OK to touch a display (this applies to interactives), or it is not (e.g. open display objects).  We have made it clear that touching interactives is at visitors’ own risk, and provided sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and bins next to them.  We feel that the signage we have used is user friendly and well designed in communicating the rationale to the visitors.  In one area where there are a lot of open display objects, barriers have been placed in front of the displays and new labels attached to the barriers.

We will not be able to allow visitors to use the film theatre in the museum. This is a great shame, as our film is so popular.  But it is 25 minutes long and the room it is shown in is poorly ventilated.  We have obtained permission from the film maker to publish clips from the film on Vimeo and we aim to do this, though it is unlikely to be achieved before we reopen.  We will also produce a large poster to go into the doorway of the film theatre that will advertise the film and have QR codes linking to the Vimeo clips.  We have also considered using QR clips to link to an area on our website which would house the sound clips from our listening posts.  This will take longer to produce and we will work on it once we are open.

Quite a few of our front of house volunteers have chosen not to return to help out at the museum for the time being.  However, we have managed to get enough volunteers to open 4 days a week 9-5.  In fact, it has been a good opportunity to recruit and train new volunteers.  We will have one volunteer on the desk and one upstairs stewarding groups.  Our FOH supervisor will meet and greet.  

One of the significant hurdles to reopening was getting hold of the materials we needed such as barriers and hand sanitiser dispensers.  We eventually got the latter after about a 4 week wait but one of our volunteers eventually had to go to Inverness to pick it up.  Barriers could not be obtained in time so they have been borrowed from a local contractor in the meantime.  We have installed a wall mounted or free standing hand sanitiser in every gallery, at the entrance, in the stairwell and outside the toilets. We have also placed one on the way into the shop and are grappling with instructions to visitors on touching shop produce.

It has been time consuming producing the information that we need to get out to visitors in its various formats and for different distribution channels.  We have had to change our opening hours on all the platforms that people use (e.g. Google Business, Visit Scotland etc.) as well as our own website.  We have dedicated a special page on our website to provide advance information for visitors and have also tried to get this out through social media.  We managed to recruit a volunteer to produce a film for us to guide visitors through the new systems in the museum.  This required storyboarding and recruiting people to take part in the film.  

With hopefully everything in place now, we are looking forward to reopening and to seeing how visitors behave in the museum under these changed circumstances.  We are well aware that we need to be flexible and respond to visitor feedback.  We will use our museum stewards to assess the effectiveness of the measures we have put in place and to feed back to us.  Wish us luck!

Find out about opening times and how to book here – https://www.gairlochmuseum.org/