Culture24's cultural year in news: Guy the Gorilla to guerrilla knitters

By Ben Miller | 21 December 2012
A photo of ancient prehistoric rocks on a hill under a blue sky
© English Heritage


a drawing of an ornate Roman helmet
© Leicestershire County Council
Did Stonehenge start out in North Pembrokeshire? A lengthy archaeological investigation suggested 99% of the rhyolite rocks at the famous Wiltshire site can be pinpointed to an expanse of land in Wales.

Another landmark was on the horizon in London, where the Design Museum unveiled plans for an £80 million switch to the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington.

The Hallaton Helmet – once less kindly known as a Rusty Bucket – went on display at the British Museum, and the Yorkshire Museum launched an appeal to save the only Iron Age gold jewellery ever found oop north.

In Cornwall, the National Maritime Museum called on the public to help a five-month Prehistoric boat build, while organisers hoped to raise £2.5 million to save Sir Christopher Wren’s “Cathedral of Fleet Street”, St Bride’s, back in the capital. Steven Spielberg shadowed Dorset’s Tank Museum, where a juggernaut from his World War I blockbuster, War Horse, rolled up.

The Arts Council announced 16 museum groups who will receive major funding for three years, but it was a setback for Museums Sheffield, who admitted to being “bitterly disappointed” at missing out.


a photo of a boat being towed by barges
© Ambrose Greenway
The world’s oldest complete steamship, the ss Robin, announced it would reopen in east London for London 2012, complete with 4,000 exhibits.

"This is not some niche, illicit trade carried out by petty part-time villains," stressed Simon Pope, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, which joined forces with the Wildlife Crime Unit for a display highlighting the impact of exotic animal crimes, featuring a stuffed tiger cub and a polar bear skin.

The Natural History Museum added an enormous Moroccan meteorite to its collection, and two new venues were making nice progress: the Titanic SeaCity Museum, in Southampton, and the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings.

Plans to mark the centenary of World War I gathered pace with the launch of a major digitisation project, Europeana 1914-1918, aiming to collect exhibits and memories from across the country.

Lottery judges pledged £10 million to the British Museum’s designs on a World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, as well as £5.5 million to projects in Bannockburn, Porthcurno and on the history of Mr Punch.

“Those jaunty red stripes are what make it literally outstanding,” said Bill Bryson, backing a £25,000 bid to repaint the colours of the Beachy Head lighthouse in time for the Olympics. Four times that amount would be on its way to the winner of this year's Art Fund Prize.


a detail of Titian’s Diana and Calliston shoing various naked figures
© National Gallery / National Galleries Scotland
Dr Nicholas Penny, the Director of the National Gallery, said the successful £50 million appeal to buy Titian’s Diana and Calliston reflected the public’s “esteem and affection” for the gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland, who will share the masterpiece.

The first echoes of Museums at Night fun could be heard as ten brilliant artists – including jelly jesters Bompas and Parr – headed to ten venues across the country as part of the public Connect10 vote.

Great news in Pompey, where the National Museum of the Royal Navy took charge of the HMS Victory via a £25 million windfall, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council pledged almost £1 million to an exhaustive project which will transform the world's understanding of Magna Carta.


a photo of five people in front of a National Trust property
© National Trust
The National Trust implored kids to climb huge hills, catch a butterfly in a net, call an owl and try 47 other things in new campaign 50 Things to do Before You're 11¾, backed by a new squad of Elite Rangers (above).

In Margate, Turner Contemporary was flying, announcing 500,000 visitors and a £14 million boost to the Kent economy in its first year.

It was a great month in openings – rower James Cracknell opened the £15 million SeaCity Museum, the Metropolitan Arts Centre opened in the Cultural Quarter of Belfast, Kent’s History and Library Centre opened on Shakespeare's birthday and the Museum of British Surfing hit the waves in Devon.

Scotland's oldest library headlined a list of 17 places given major funding awards, and the Imperial War Museum announced far-reaching plans for an “imaginative and intellectual” development to mark the centenary of World War One.


a photo of a modern gallery building at the edge of an expanse of water
© Iwan Baan
The Hepworth Wakefield, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter and the Watts Gallery made the final four of the Art Fund Prize following a round of “rigorous vetting”.

The Culture24 office enjoyed a collective round of tea after the annual Museums at Night weekend heralded a superlative few days of nocturnal fun and inspiration at venues across the land.

Henry Hardcastle the Pawnbrokers was among the shops resurfacing at Kirkgate, the bygone Victorian street in York which enjoyed a £300,000 refurbishment.

Obligatory Glaswegian genius Luke Fowler, sublime-ridiculous proverbial tightrope treader Spartacus Chetwynd, monster fan Elizabeth Price and poo sketcher Paul Noble were named as the final competitors for this year's Turner Prize.

A self-penned postcard by Hitler confessing to dodgy teeth was one of the remarkable items to surface from the first round of roadshows for the Europeana 1914-1918 campaign.

The Haslemere Educational Museum was a worthy winner of this year's hotly-contested Family Friendly Museum Award.


a photo of a man with a footbal next to a man holding a torch
© Photo Angela Catlin
“Forest Pitch is all about what it means to be Scottish, and to be part of Scottish culture, in the 21st century,” declared Craig Coulthard, the creator of a football pitch hewn out of spruce woodland for the Cultural Olympiad, welcoming the Olympic Torch.

Lord Smith of Finsbury, the Chair of the Art Fund Prize judges, praised Exeter’s Royal Memorial Museum as "quite simply a magical place", rewarding it with the £100,000 bounty for this year’s competition.

In funding news, dozens of venues and groups learned they would share more than £55 million in the DCMS’s new Catalyst: Endowment Awards scheme, although a part of the country’s heritage was at risk if The National Trust failed in a £1.2 million appeal to secure the White Cliffs of Dover.

“If we don’t raise the money then the future of the White Cliffs is uncertain,” warned Fiona Reynolds, the Trust’s Director General.

The National Portrait Gallery announced plans to send the first known British oil portrait of a Black African Muslim and freed slave on a British tour.


a photo of a stately home
© Museum of East Anglian Life
Joyful news: the Museum of East Anglian Life, the founders of the Happy Museum project, reopened the historic Abbot's Hall after a £3 million project.

A new £18.5 million visitor centre opened at the spectacular Giant’s Causeway site in Northern Ireland, and plans to create a dramatic new £41 million courtyard at the V&A had a “significant” boost as the Exhibition Road project received planning permission.

Blueprints were also being realised at Airman’s Corner where, after deliberations which have occasionally felt as convoluted as the history of the stones, a new visitor centre for Stonehenge seemed likely to finally happen.

"We hope those who come to visit the museum will see the replica skeleton and gain some understanding of how hard it must have been for Joseph Merrick to walk, talk and lead a normal life,” said Professor Richard Trembath, discussing the arrival of a replica skeleton of The Elephant Man at the Royal London Museum.

In archaeology, the Yorkshire Museum pursued £2,000 for a Richard III boar badge, and a set of ten coins once used by ancient tribes went on show in Leicestershire.

A byzantine bowl became one of National Museums Scotland’s most important acquisitions, and four major museums shared £16 million towards ambitious developments.


a photo of a classical pillar decorated with red wool
© Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
"Guerrilla knitters" covered the ancient pillars of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in colourful yarns, marking the Olympic Games and the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence in eye-catching style.

It was a remarkable feat, although Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum announced a comparable task as it sought to raise £4 million to save a £14 million Poussin masterpiece, described as “a uniquely rich resource for teaching at all levels”.

A child’s grave and pits full of bone shards and teeth were found in three generations of Roman graves in Cumbria, and diggers at Spitalfields Market, in London, believed they may have found evidence of a little-known 13th century eruption.

A new £2 million visitor centre opened as the centrepiece of a £14.5 million transformation at the Abbotsford home of Scottish poetry forefather Sir Walter Scott, and a subterranean ship was revealed as the anchor for an £8.5 million development plot at Historic Dockyard Chatham.

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, described a 5,000-year-old figurine in Orkney as an "unprecedented find."


a photo of a woman holding a small metal bore
© Lily Hartley
“We could never have guessed how generous people would be,” said Natalie McCaul, the assistant curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, where the campaign to save the Richard III boar badge ended in triumph.

It was quite a month for the former King – archaeologists embarking on a high-profile search for his body made a remarkable body when they found a skeleton bearing an arrowhead under a car park in Leicester.

The Design Museum seemed more intent on making burials, choosing an iPhone, a coffee pot and a tin of anchovies for a time capsule destined for its new home in Kensington.

Jon Carter, the Director of Jersey Heritage, invited the public to see “one of the most significant finds of modern times” as 52,000 Celtic coins went on show at Jersey Museum.

The annual Ask a Curator day sent the Twittersphere all aquiver, and there was more excitement as the V&A elaborated upon its plans for a major David Bowie exhibition in the spring.

Dark lanes of dust and pink clouds were all the rage in the reliably intergalactic Astronomy Photographer of the Year, won by Australian-based sky-watcher Martin Pugh this time around.


a photo of four men -  one of them using a spade
© Tank Museum
Former photojournalist Luc Delahaye won the Prix Pictet for works from conflicts in Bosnia and Iraq, as well as snapshots from the 2004 World Economic Forum.

The galleries commemorating World War I at the Imperial War Museum were backed by David Cameron, who promised £5 million towards the £35 million plans.

A number of community projects remembering the war also received funding to the tune of £1 million each year. Jeremy Paxman was at The Tank Museum to dig the first fork of a £2.5 million Vehicle Conservation Centre which will care for 120 hefty vehicles.

Another redevelopment plan arrived at the Wellcome Collection, which will spend £17.5 million creating an interdisciplinary set of galleries uniting the immense collections at the Charing Cross Road medical museum.

“Perfectly organised, infinite chaos” prevailed at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, won by Paul Nicklen for an image of underwater Antarctic penguins.


a photo of a mounumental semi-abstract statue of a seated female
© Jonty Wilde, reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation
“The value of art is diminished by being monetarised,” warned Danny Boyle, adding his name to a high-profile list of objectors to a London council’s plans to sell off a major Henry Moore sculpture.

Better news in Dover, where the campaign to save the White Cliffs raised the required £1.2 million.

Airport x-rays revealed a further 21 axeheads from a Jersey field, and the lengthy campaign to save the Bronze Age axes of the Wissett Hoards enjoyed a homecoming for the ancient treasures, which went on display at the Halesworth and District Museum.

David Cundall, the Lincolnshire farmer who has spent decades pinpointing dozens of World War II Spitfires to a site in Burma, will lead a team heading to Asia to excavate them.

Closer to home, pictures were released of a huge Anglo-Saxon banqueting hall discovered during a dig in Kent.

In openings, Britpop hero Jarvis Cocker launched the "fantastic" new Wakefield One library and museum, and plaster cast fans were in for a dramatic treat at the returning Octagon and Flaxman Galleries at University College London.

Good news in the ancient and contemporary: the oldest digital computer was rebooted for the public to enjoy in Bletchley, and Grayson Perry’s Vanity of Small Differences – the tapestries created during a hugely popular Channel 4 series – were secured for the nation.


a photo of a stuffed gorrilla
© Natural History Museum
What have a gorilla, a dodo skeleton and the country’s oldest surviving meteorite got in common? They’ll all be vying for your attention this new year and beyond in the amazing new Treasures Gallery at the Natural History Museum.

Elizabeth Price’s eerie video work deservedly won the Turner Prize ahead of a shortlist which performed the minor miracle of avoiding outspoken critical derision.

Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, said the Portable Antiquities Scheme was "envied the world over" as its annual report surveyed another remarkable 12 months of discoveries during 2011, as well as an award for the accompanying online vault of finds.

The RAF Museum announced plans to digitise around 300,000 First World War personnel records and create a major exhibition telling the story of the conflict in the air.

The reopened Charles Dickens Museum wasted little time in announcing an imaginative programme of events after a £3.1 million restoration, completed at the end of the bicentenary of the author’s birth.

Andrew Ellis, of the Public Catalogue Foundation, was a happy man after an amazing project to commit every publically-owned oil painting to an online catalogue resulted in a new BBC website, Your Paintings.

The public were invited to help annotate the works by adding Facebook-style “tags” to each one.

The culture loving public will also have a vote to look forward to, as Connect10 – the Museums at Night adventure pairing artists with venues – announced Jake and Dinos Chapman and Martin Creed among a line-up of artists taking part in 2013.

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