Museum of the citizen: Manchester

In Manchester we celebrated our partnership with Manchester Museum, which will see the development of a new multi-million pound South Asia Gallery in 2020 – the first of its kind in the UK, and the British Museum’s largest partnership gallery to date. The South Asia Gallery is part of a wider capital scheme at Manchester Museum which will include a large temporary exhibition space, a new entrance and expanded public facilities. Its aim will be to tell the cultural histories of South Asia, developed in close consultation with local communities and the wider diaspora. As part of the partnership, several objects from the British Museum’s collection will be loaned to Manchester Museum alongside ongoing curatorial support.

Mcr Museum Citizen-36

On the panel:

  • Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President & Vice-Chancellor, University of Manchester
  • Talat-Farooq Awan, Journalist and Presenter, BBC
  • Professor Colin Bailey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Manchester University
  • Dr Richard Blurton, Curator of South Asia, British Museum
  • Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum
  • Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum
  • Dr Nick Merriman, Director, Manchester Museum

‘There’s a risk that the northern powerhouse becomes entirely about science, technology and engineering and it cannot be. It must be also about culture, about social sciences, about what matters to people and what changes their lives’
 Dame Nancy Rothwell

Mcr Museum Audience-16

Dame Nancy Rothwell opened with a few words on the significant role of culture in the Northern Powerhouse, followed by a reminder of the close links between the roles of museums and universities – both homes to research, teaching, community engagement.

Listen to Dame Nancy Rothwell:

Mcr Museum Audience-22

‘We’re aiming to become what we call a ‘Museum for Life’ – a museum which works with everyone from babies to the very elderly, and which addresses some of the big issues around intercultural understanding and sustainability.’
Nick Merriman

Mcr Museum Citizen-5

Next up, Nick Merriman placed the South Asia Gallery in the wider context of the British Museum’s long-running partnership with Manchester Museum, the cultural ambitions of Manchester city and Manchester Museum’s wider redevelopment plans.

Listen to Nick Merriman:

‘The museum, the civic space which belongs to everybody, is where traditions which are both particular and shared can be explored’
– Neil MacGregor

Mcr Museum Citizen-63

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor reflected on the South Asia Gallery’s significance to the British Museum, noting it as the largest partnership gallery that the British Museum has embarked on to date. He added that these types of partnerships allow the British Museum to truly be a museum of the citizen, with a collection that is accessible to, and reflective of, the whole of the UK.

Listen to Neil MacGregor:

‘The British Museums collection was founded in 1753 with the collections of Sir Hans Sloane and I always find it a matter of great pleasure that even in that foundation collection there were already contemporary South Asian items and Indian paintings in his original collection.’
– Richard Blurton

Mcr Museum Citizen-60

Reiterating Neil MacGregor’s sentiments that the British Museum should be seen as a lending library for other museums and galleries, Richard Blurton, Curator of the British Museum’s South Asia collection, showcased a speculative selection of British Museum objects that could be displayed in the new Gallery – including paintings from the major centres of Mughal power, Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, and rare Bangladeshi scrolls and textiles.

Listen to Richard Blurton:

‘The only time I was compelled to make an effort to go to a museum was if there was something that was connecting me to my culture – for me that would have been seeing the oldest Qu’ran or Indian artefact on kings and queens…it was about me wanting to go because there was something connecting me to the museum’
– Talat-Farooq Awan

Mcr Museum Citizen-1

Next up, BBC broadcaster and journalist Talat-Farooq Awan noted that the new South Asia Gallery would help Manchester build connections with universities and museums in Pakistan, while also building connections with the 340,000-strong community of people of South Asian heritage in Manchester.

Listen to Talat-Farooq Awan:

Mcr Museum Audience-23

‘We can address the challenges that are currently facing the globe – conflict, security, health – through the understanding of each other’s cultures.’
– Professor Colin Bailey

Mcr Museum Citizen-51

The final speaker of the day, Manchester University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, highlighted the importance of the South Asia Gallery to the University. Students and staff represent 185 different countries around the globe, he said, emphasising that there were few other places where one could experience, and come to understand, people from so many different cultures.

Listen to Professor Colin Bailey:

Questions from the floor:

‘How will Manchester Museum temper the not so nice parts of history that took place in South Asia?’
– audience member

Mcr Museum Audience-30

Listen to the Museum of the citizen: Manchester Q&A session:

Museum of the citizen is a new events programme and public discussion that aims to celebrate the British Museum’s work with partners, large and small, who help us reach the broadest possible audience.