Persuading the inbound culture-vultures to fly to St Albans 20 Feb 2020
Around 38.5 million visits were made to Britain from abroad in 2019, and approximately half of the inbound visitors included a trip to a museum on their list of things to do, and just over one quarter enjoyed an art gallery.
In fact, visiting a museum is regarded as the 3rd best activity for overseas visitors.
So, when considering our strategy for attracting visitors into St Albans to share in our wonderful history, and help boost our local economy, we should be proud that, for the past 18 months, we have had a thriving, dynamic Museum + Gallery of a national quality, right in the heart of the city.
And the figures do not lie. In that year and a half, we have welcomed half a million visitors to the museum and have run 22 exhibitions.
This is a huge achievement, and, although we expected to be popular, we did not expect those numbers.
We have certainly strived to put on exhibitions that will capture our audiences’ interest and that tell stories which inform, entertain and stimulate thought. But the figures are also a testament to the other activities we have run: the interactive workshops, tours, lectures, craft sessions and museum lates that have proved so popular with thousands of people. We have also been proud to welcome thousands more school children; for many this is their first experience of a museum.
And we have got involved with local cultural initiatives, and run our own complementary events; such as the festive films we screened in December, in the Courtroom and Assembly Room, in partnership with St Albans Film Festival. These included ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to which local residential homes were offered complimentary tickets.
And now we look forward to the next 12 months, and our plans to welcome even more visitors to this cultural hub in 2020. A full list is on our website but we are particularly excited about some of the exhibitions and events that marry history of UK significance with our own St Albans’ heritage.
On 14 February we are honoured to have scientist Lucy Hawking come to the museum to speak to our younger visitors about “unlocking the Universe”. As well as being a scientist of repute herself, Lucy is also the daughter of an internationally famous St Albans resident and scientist, the late Stephen Hawking.
From the end of February until 5 March we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War 2 (and the 77th anniversary of the end of the battle of Stalingrad), with a unique exhibition to highlight the influence this battle had on the people of Great Britain and, in particular, on the towns and villages surrounding St Albans. This free exhibition is brought to the museum by the Stalingrad Battle Foundation and will be shown in The Assembly Room.
This year is the Hertfordshire Year of Culture, and supporting this year-long initiative, 50 artists will be showing 80 stunning works in the first Hertfordshire Open, from 4 April to 21 June this year in the Weston Gallery. Also free, this will bring together art in all its mediums – paintings and prints, film, photography and sculpture – and will create a visual and sensory spectacle for all ages to enjoy. The works are selected by an independent panel of judges, and the exhibition celebrates both established visual artists as well as new and emerging talent, and is organised by UHArts (University of Hertfordshire Arts), in partnership with St Albans Museums.
These are just some of the events we have planned for 2020 that we hope will not only attract some of those millions of inbound visitors to Britain to venture a little way from London, to St Albans, but will also inspire its residents and help to create a sense of city-wide pride.
Our ultimate aim must be to become one of the must-visit museums in the UK for those inbound culture-vultures, and we think, with the support of the city, we have a good chance of achieving our goal.
By Farhana Begum, Museums Manager at St Albans City and District Council, on behalf of the St Albans Visitor Partnership
For more information on St Albans Museum + Gallery, see stalbansmuseums.org.uk.
This article first appeared in the Herts Advertiser on 13th February 2020.