The Culture24 review of 2011: The Scottish story

By Jenni Davidson | 03 January 2012
A photograph of the outside of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum at night
The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
© National Trust for Scotland
Despite cuts in funding and belt tightening across the board, 2011 has been a bumper year for openings and re-openings of museums and galleries in Scotland...

At the beginning of the year the Scottish Makar, Liz Lochhead, and First Minister, Alex Salmond, officially opened the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway just in time for Burns Night on January 25.

The new museum has the world's most significant collection of material relating to Burns’ life and work, with more than 5,000 Burns-related artefacts, and the site also incorporates Burns Cottage, Alloway Auld Kirk, the Burns Monument and Brig o’ Doon.

In June the Riverside Museum, Scotland's Museum of Transport and Travel, opened in Glasgow and by December it had already become Glasgow’s most popular tourist attraction and welcomed its millionth visitor.

A photo of a huge museum overlooking a river
The Riverside Museum in Glasgow
© Glasgow Life
The stunning new purpose-built building, designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is dedicated to Glasgow's industrial heritage and includes the exhibition Clyde Built, on Glasgow's shipbuilding tradition, as well as the collections from Glasgow’s old Museum of Transport.

June also saw the reopening of the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle - the most complete Renaissance palace in Britain - after a three-year, £12 million refurbishment to return it to how it would have looked in the 16th century, when Mary of Guise and the infant Mary Queen of Scots lived there.

The restoration includes painted ceilings, coats of arms, huge tapestries and replicas of the Stirling Heads - giant oak heads featuring the characters of James V's court, from the king himself to the jester - on the ceiling of the king’s apartments. The original heads are now also on display in the castle.

A photo of a woman in Tudor costume
Replicas of the Unicorn Tapestries adorn the walls of Stirling Castle© Historic Scotland
Another major refurbishment was unveiled in July, when the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh re-opened after a £47 million refit.

The new look museum features an amazing 50 percent more public space and a brand new basement entrance, as well as themed displays, an education centre, improved access and a transformation of the concourse into a new Grand Gallery to showcase the museum’s oversized objects.

The museum also beat the Riverside to the million visitor mark, seeing an incredible one million people walk through the doors in less than four months, a target it had only hoped to achieve a year after opening.

A photo of a grand hall inside a museum
The Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland© Jenni Davidson
One of Glasgow's iconic landmarks, the Mitchell Library, with its distinctive copper dome, neither opened nor closed, but instead celebrated 100 years at its current Charing Cross location in October 2011.

The Mitchell is one of the largest public libraries in Europe, with over a million items in its collection and an excellent archive of material relating to Robert Burns.

Also in October, a new gallery opened in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery dedicated to the Glasgow Boys art movement.

This permanent exhibition, which displays 60 paintings by the group, follows on from the record-breaking success of the Glasgow Boys exhibition at Kelvingrove in 2010.

The oldest purpose-built portrait gallery in the world, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, was also transformed by a multi-million pound refit in 2011. The gallery had been closed for two years for a £17.6 million makeover to restore the interior and increase the exhibition space.

A photo of an ornate museum looking down from an upper balcony
The entrance hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery© Jenni Davidson
The new look gallery was unveiled in December with the grand entrance hall buffed up and cleaned and upper galleries transformed with themed displays and roof lights, while on the lower floors more contemporary galleries now allow for changing exhibitions of portraiture and photography.

Looking to the future, there is good news too. The Heritage Lottery Fund announced £4.6 million of funding for a new Gaelic museum in Lews Castle in Stornoway in November and in December Edinburgh City Council unveiled plans for a refurbishment and development project based around the city's Central Library, to turn it into a cultural centre for the UNESCO City of Literature.
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