SCOTLAND’S NATIONAL MUSEUMS

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The National Museums of Scotland (NMS) have shown yet again that Scotland can build superb complex modern buildings on time and on budget. Pity they are not running the Edinburgh Tram Scheme.

We owe much to the vision and dedication of the late Lord Bute and successive Chairmen of Trustees for the quality our formerly diversely managed museums which were integrated into a national museums structure by the National Heritage (Scotland) Act, 1985.

The National Museums of Scotland (NMS) have shown yet again that Scotland can build superb complex modern buildings on time and on budget. Pity they are not running the Edinburgh Tram Scheme.

We owe much to the vision and dedication of the late Lord Bute and successive Chairmen of Trustees for the quality our formerly diversely managed museums which were integrated into a national museums structure by the National Heritage (Scotland) Act, 1985.

In recent years the new Museum of Scotland has been built on time and on budget on a site with very restricted city centre access; also on budget and on time – the old Agricultural Museum at Ingliston built as the National Museum of Rural Life at  Kittochside, East Kilbride;  the Scottish United Services Museum, now known as the National War Museum redeveloped in Edinburgh Castle; the National Museum of Costume at Shambellie in Dumfriesshire beautifully maintained; the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune substantially redeveloped and housing a Concorde; and the Granton Depository no longer a closed storage warehouse but now the accessible National Museums Collection Centre.

The NMS have led the way in pioneering outreach with a travelling exhibition generously sponsored by Scottish Gas that visited every corner of Scotland including the islands. The all-Scotland approach was shown by the Junior Board with one young person from each region, in its day a pioneering development, which was consulted on the designed layout of the National Museum of Scotland: an example of their valuable practical contributions being accessible displays with signage visible to smaller citizens who no longer have to be lifted up by parents to peer into dusty showcases with tiny old labels.

The former Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art built in the 1860s later  renamed the Royal Scottish Museum and now known as the Royal Museum standing alongside the new National Museum of Scotland is being imaginatively and sensitively developed and modernised. An important element will be enlarged space for inward temporary exhibitions such as the hugely successful exhibitions from museums in China and St Petersburg.

NMS is the European leader in museum education, having been the first to restructure collections and develop teachers’ packs to enable them to bring classes in for learning integrated with and directly related to the national curriculum. The Museums’ varied continuing professional development (CPD) programme offers opportunities for teachers and pupils alike to get the most out of exhibits and resources, using free teacher-led object handling sessions to explore the past using real and replica objects. The Museum has an impressive range of publications.

NMS Director Dr Gordon Rintoul works in Edinburgh at the epicentre of European museum development. NMS have seen two former directors move on to directorships of  museums in London, Dr Robert Anderson to the British Museum and Mark now Sir Mark Jones to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Development money has not all been handed over by the Scottish government. NMS has successfully made submissions to Lottery Funds, applications to which are competitive. The Scottish government required £16 million to be brought in by NMS fund-raising for the Museum of Scotland and now another £12 million for the Royal Museum modernisation. The development will bring a multi-million boost to Edinburgh. Now is the time for the future beneficiaries to help with raising £12 million for fitting out the development.

These achievements, and there are many more, reflect great credit on staff of every grade, donors, sponsors, fund raisers, unpaid volunteers and advisers, and all the design teams and contractors. They have made Scotland a leader and trend setter in the museum movement both in the UK and internationally.

Finally, I know from experience that Table 11 in the NMS rooftop Terrace Restaurant has the finest view and finest Scottish food to be had north of the border.