Thursday, June 30, 2005

Understanding Museums - the Example of the Petrie

The following was originally an email, sent by Jan Picton of the Petrie Museum to the EEF forum, and reproduced here with her kind permission. It is a very important perspective on the role of museums, the responsible management of museum collections, and their role in communicating their contents to wide audiences. Jan's very pertinent email reads as follows:

"I recently posted some information about tunics in the Petrie Museum and the online availability of all (or most) of the Petrie objects. I received the following comment that I would like to take this opportunity to follow up on list since I think it's a view that many people may share.

"I really liked the old "cramped" museum. To me that is what a working museum should be. I shall have mixed feelings when I see the new and improved space I have heard about."

I could say the easy thing - that a 21st century world class museum and collection deserves fitting surroundings - which they do. Or I could say that Petrie himself would have been appalled at the conditions his collection is kept in. He fought for Egyptology to be taken seriously at UCL and for his collection to be used as a publicly accessible teaching collection.

Post WW2 bombing it was housed in its current 'temporary' position. The roof leaks in 13 places, we don't have enough room for the objects, and every time an object is conserved and remounted it takes up more space and there's nowhere for it to go. Eighty per cent of the objects are not on public view and we want them to be. Staff work in dreadfully cramped conditions - our outstanding curator, Stephen Quirke, shares an office the size of a cupboard with the kitchen sink!

Yes, the old museum has 'charm' - I walked in on my first day as a mature student ten years ago and never really left - but it should be regarded as an international scandal. Our new space would have proper study and teaching facilities, it would have its own conservation lab, 100 per cent of the objects will be on display or in visible, accessible storage. Finally, there will be surroundings to do justice to the collection and to the staff who work so hard to make it accessible to the world.

But you may not have to worry - unless we raise another six million pounds by Christmas, it won't happen. It may not equal world poverty in the greater scheme of things but it will be a real tragedy.

Sorry for the passion, but it hit an over-stretched nerve! If anyone wants to know more about it, email me

Best wishes

Jan Picton
Secretary, Friends of the Petrie Museum
H.R.A. Institute of Archaeology, UCL".

Obviously, the Petrie is looking for donations for this much-needed facility. Anyone who would like to contribute to the new museum appeal should contact Sally Macdonald at the Petrie Museum: - all donations will be very gratefully received! The Petrie collection is a fabulous resource and deserves premises that truly make the most of its wonderful contents.
You can find out more about the Petrie Museum by clicking here, and by their excellent resource the Digital Egypt by clicking here.

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