I am currently taking my final taught module of my MA. This module is on a specialism we get to choose, mine is titled The Museum and the Natural Environment and this week we went on a trip to Manchester Museum (which is probably not somewhere I would have got round to visiting otherwise but I’m now going to recommend the hell out of it because it was fantastic). This museum is attached to the University of Manchester and works closely with them.
Upon entering, the museum appears like any other, the sound of school children can be heard and large objects decorate the entrance hall. We were lucky enough to have two talk from members of staff about the museum and its’ exhibitions. The first being on After the Bees and Extinction or Survival and the second being a tour of The Vivarium. After the Bees was located in the study, an area used by artists in the museum, and was a photography exhibition. To me this exhibition spoke of the vulnerability of humans in terms of the decreasing number of bees and also the effects on the world if the bees ever disappeared, however, some of my fellow classmates felt that because of the nature of these arty exhibits the message was either lost or non-existent. Sadly then, perhaps this kind of exhibit may not work for the types of visitors the museum tends to attracts – but I would like to see some other reviews of the exhibition.
After this we were shown briefly around the Extinction or Survival exhibition. This one was more typical of a museum exhibition, with cases and text panels and a clear theme throughout. This exhibition aimed to show visitors how humans were contributing to the extinction of animals and how important they are to our continued existence on the planet. It also provided examples of what was being done to try to combat the extinction of species and asked visitors for their ideas on how it could be tackled. Overall a far more classic exhibition, but still informative and though provoking.
Next we climbed the stairs to The Vivarium and were given a guided tour from the assistant curator. This exhibit is one with a live collection of mostly amphibians but also some reptiles. We got to see variety of exotic frogs and reptiles, including the Lemur Leaf Frog – which they are currently conserving and study at the museum. I would suggest looking at the museum’s website for more information on what they do as the list is long and fascinating. We then went to lunch, the museum’s cafe has a great range of food, I went for a quinoa and mushroom burger with sweet potato fries which was delicious and not too expensive at around (this cafe supports Project Ocean and does student discount).
The time after lunch, from 2-4pm was unstructured, but intended for us to continue around the museum and look at the Living Worlds and Nature Discovery exhibitions. I absolutely adored these too exhibitions – they were a refreshing look a natural history and the use of taxidermy in display and I can totally understand why Living Worlds was shortlisted for a design award. Living Worlds was constructed by artists and used their interpretations to highlight the interconnected nature of life on the planet, whilst also trying to encourage visitors to try and do their bit in terms of leading a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Due to the artistic nature of the exhibition much was left to interpretation and so it may not appeal to all visitors, but for me I found it thought provoking and aesthetically appealing – I’m also not sure that museums need to be constantly forcing messages at people and don’t see any harm in someone enjoying an exhibition purely based on aesthetics.
The final exhibition I visited at the museum was Nature Discovery. This one was mainly aimed at children but I still loved the concept. It was again using natural history objects and taxidermy, but this time the space was imaginative and immersive, hoping to inspire children to go out and explore nature. It had creative diorama like displays, but they had an almost surreal and sweet nature. This is probably the most beautiful taxidermy display I’ve ever seen, with an English meadow – complete with sound effects – and a winter landscape storybook scene, I was so impressed.
I personally had such a wonderful experience at Manchester Museum. Especially as someone who gets excited by creative and innovative display ideas. A visit to Manchester Museum should definitely be on everyone’s list (its also free).