A guide to the best new museums, galleries and cultural festivals of 2015

By Ben Miller | 05 January 2014

Some of the country's best-loved galleries reopen, Damien Hirst's personal collection goes on show and there are new festivals to enjoy. Here are the highlights for 2015

A photo of a modern exhibit inside an art gallery featuring a cage full of feathers
© Stuart Brisley
Changing Britain 1945-2015, Southbank Centre, London, from January

A new festival at the Southbank, the visual arts highlight of which is a major Hayward Gallery show, History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain, featuring the likes of Roger Hiorns and Richard Wentworth curating sections devoted to particular points during the past 70 years. The exhibition will unite more than 250 works, while a series of BBC Concert Orchestra performances will include signature tunes from Hancock’s Half Hour.

An image of a 19th century painting showing a woman blindfolded ahead of execution
© Courtesy Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London Corporation
Guildhall Art Gallery, London, reopens January

Described by Principal Curator Julia Dudkiewicz as a “labour of love”, the Guildhall’s first rehang in 15 years will feature many previously unseen works: much of the Victorian section has been newly selected by curators as part of the £600,000 renovation, themed into further spheres on the City of London, Picturing London (which covers 400 years of landscapes) and the works of Sir Matthew Smith.

A photo of a man in a uniform blowing a trumpet in front of a museum building lit red
© Chris Foster Photography
Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, reopens February

One of the best-loved galleries in the north-west, the Whitworth and its 55,000-strong collection has been closed for more than a year. The result is an extension into the glorious Whitworth Park encompassing the building and featuring an art garden, sculpture terrace, orchard garden and landscape gallery. Opening exhibitions by artists including Cornelia Parker and Sarah Lucas help celebrate the £15 million development.

A photo of an ancient piece of parchment featuring lines of black lettering
© British Library. Photo: Joseph Turp
Magna Carta 800, various venues, from February

Even the most rebellious of barons might be distracted by the hefty programme of events during the 800th anniversary year of King John famously putting paper to arguably Britain’s most important piece of legislation. The hat-trick of headline exhibitions are at The British Library (, from March to September); Salisbury Cathedral (Magna Carta – The Power of Words, from February) and Lincoln Cathedral (the Magna Carta Vault, at Lincoln Castle revealed, from April – see below).

A photo of a large conference or stadium building situated at the centre of a lake
© Ross, geograph.org.uk
NI Science Festival, Belfast, runs February-March

The first large-scale science festival of its kind in Belfast has an enviable array of expertise to call upon, including the Ulster Museum, the Northern Ireland Science Park and the city’s academic institutions, which are world-renowned for their scientific research. Look out for an attempt to hold the world’s largest ever science lesson, inside the Odyssey Arena, Turing lectures, a digital session hosted by the BBC and science festival favourite FameLab.

A photo of a large historic outdoor mansion on a green lawn surrounded by gardens
© Courtesy Leeds City Council
Lotherton Hall, Leeds, Fashion Galleries reopen March

A deer park, bird garden and popular collections of fine and decorative art are the signatures of this Edwardian House and Garden. But a comprehensive refurbishment of the Fashion Galleries aims to create one of the largest spaces in the north for an annual programme of fashion and textile exhibitions, partly funded by the DCMS. The opening exhibition will be Age of Glamour; Fashion from the Fifties.

A photo of a large brown stone building with traffic around it beneath a large red crane
© Nick-D, Wikimedia Commons
Weston Library, Oxford, reopens March

Once commandeered to help plan D-Day, the New Bodleian was officially opened by King George VI in 1946. Refurbished at a cost of – paying off a few fines – more than £80 million, it’s now been named after the foundation which contributed £25 million of the funding. That money will ensure the Grade II-listed building’s repositories meet the finest standards.

An image of a design for a large urban museum with large windows and brown brick top
© GameCity / Samuel Kirby
National Videogame Arcade, Nottingham, opens March

A permanent space for videogame culture right in the centre of the country: three floors of playable exhibitions, specially-commissioned works, education spaces for game-making and a performance space, set across 33,000 square feet. Look out for A History of Games in 100 Objects at this new £2.5 million venue supported by the City Council and Nottingham Trent University.

A photo of a group of people in high-visibility clothing and hard hats in an old building
© Richard Darn
Civil War Centre, Newark, opens Spring

Taking shape inside a Grade II building, the characterful Tudor home of the country’s first ever National Civil War Centre has already produced some great stories. Graffiti from its former incarnation as an early 17th century boys’ school could have been scrawled by a relative of Walt Disney, while scorch marks and musket ball holes were also found. The beamed roof has been stripped back and the Victorian and Georgian rooms are about to be fitted out.

A photo of a large air vehicle being moved by crane into a museum across housing
© Coventry Transport Museum / Mark Radford
Land Speed Record Gallery, Coventry Transport Museum, Coventry, opens Spring

An £8.5 million redevelopment for the world-renowned collection of motor cars, commercial vehicles, cycles and motorcycles in Coventry, transforming 12 of the 14 galleries at a venue opened in 1980. Look out for the Speed Record Gallery, which features the world’s two fastest cars.

A photo of a series of metal objects inside cases within a modern historical gallery
© Museums Sheffield
Metalworks Collection, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, redeveloped display opens Spring

There are more than 13,000 objects in a metalwork collection synonymous with Sheffield set in a redeveloped display set to open in spring following a successful £110,000 bid to the DCMS. Work on improvements to the city’s Weston Park Museum will also begin later in the year, funded by a £697,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

A photo of a woman looking at a human skull with its jaw open on a table
© Lincolnshire County Council
Lincoln Castle Revealed, Lincoln Castle, Lincoln, opens April

A gothic cathedral on the site of a Roman fortress, Lincoln Castle was built in 1068. Reinforcing its status as one of the country’s finest Norman castles, the stone building will be restored in time for the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, including an enticing-sounding vault holding its copy of the charter and a complete circular castle leading to Victorian prisons and an “in the round” cinema.

A photo of the inside of a modern art gallery with various brightly coloured squares on the wall
© Rachel Topham
HOME, Manchester, opens May

Much to excite in the merger of the Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company: a 500 square metre gallery space, five cinema screens and a 500-seat theatre are part of the £25 million, Dutch-designed development at the centre of a £500 million regeneration projecting covering 20 acres on First Street. The opening exhibition, The heart is deceitful above all things, is a thematic group exhibition exploring heartache, breaking up, disenchantment and the dark side of the funfair.

A photo of three curved silver sculptures of different heights against a silver backdrop
© Ndidi Ekubia, Cockpit Arts
London Craft Week, London, runs May 6-10

Lauded as an “essential platform” by the Minister of State for Culture and promising to showcase the “quality and magic” of exquisite craftsmanship, the debut LCW – based largely around Mayfair and Bloomsbury – will have its line-up fully confirmed at the start of February. Talks, demonstrations, studios and seeing-is-believing workshops all feature, with partners including the V&A and Saville Row.

A photo of the outside of a stone museum with a union jack flag and tree visible
© Nick-D, Wikimedia Commons
National Army Museum on tour, various venues, various dates

When Chelsea’s National Army Museum closed for a lengthy refurbishment last year, curators promised to take its collections on tour across the country. True to their word, you can look out for exhibitions at Cardiff Castle Museum, Folkestone Town Hall and in Bury and Berwick-on-Tweed, as well as a range of special outreach events.

A photo of a series of gold sculpted objects including a bear, deer, ship and owl
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Wellby Collection of Renaissance silverware and exotica, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

No date confirmed yet, but Michael Wellby’s exotic collection of more than 500 silver and gold objects, gifted to the Ashmolean in January 2013 and worth around £10 million, is a must-see. Tim Wilson, the museum’s Keeper and a friend of Wellby’s before the benefactor’s death in 2012, has called the collection the most important bequest since Rothschild’s Waddesden Manor gift to the British Museum in 1898.

A photo of a cylindrical drum with a painting on its outside depicting lions and a crest
© National Army Museum
Waterloo 200, various venues, various dates

Originally established 41 years ago (the main aim then was to prevent a motorway being built across the Belgian battlefield), the Duke of Wellington’s Waterloo Committee has come up with a range of events and online resources to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle. Exhibitions, talks, re-enactments and conferences are planned. Here are six key objects.

a photo of a brandy warming device in the shape of a donkey and cart which tips and warms the glass with a wick
© National Trust, Jonathan Primmer
Churchill 2015, various dates, various venues

Winston Churchill was fascinated by scientists, not least because of the part labs played in the war. Churchill’s Scientists, at the Science Museum, features the cigar he smoked on the day of his re-election as Prime Minister, while Blenheim reinvigorates its Churchill exhibition and the remembers the carriages of Churchill’s funeral train.

A photo of a design for a large urban art gallery showing a warehouse-style building
© Caruso St John Architects
Newport Street Gallery, London

Damien Hirst’s Lambeth-based personal collection has been in development for three years and is driven by his desire to share works by the artists he admires and his own capacity to curate. The collection, which ranges from Bacon to Banksy, has previously been showcased in spaces such as the Serpentine, but these six interconnected galleries – within five converted warehouses bought in 1998 – represent its most thorough exposition to date. Opening date to be confirmed.

What are you looking forward to in 2015? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24's 2015 previews:

From Marvin Gaye Chetwynd to the Turner Prize: 2014 in contemporary art

The best art exhibitions to see in London during 2015
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