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Museums look to expand public realm to create visitor confidence post Covid-19

Science and Industry Museum, Manchester (which will have a direct physical connection to The Factory development)

Our second Future Cities Forum 'culture and tourism' online discussion involved contributions from senior leadership at Liverpool Museums, the Science Museum Group and architects Grimshaw. It looked at the need post Covid-19 of making the most of outdoor spaces around museums to connect with communities and visitors.

Laura Pye, Director of Liverpool Museums, is overseeing an ambitious master plan in Liverpool to draw all the city's museums together in a connected visitor offering:

'The city has changed in the last 20 years. The divide between the centre and the dock area has become smaller but nevertheless we are very keen to use the city's outdoor space to connect all our museums. The dry docks in Liverpool - the Canning-Graving dock - are owned by us and an intrinsic part of the city's history. It was where slaving vessels were maintained and cleaned and we want to concentrate on making this site a museum in its own right. The Martin Luther King building in the Albert Dock will become a 'front door' linked to our slavery museum.

'Footfall has increased in our dock areas around the museums so we want to put in public realm improvements involving new bridges across Mann Island which will help with future numbers of visitors. It is all part of the bigger development of the waterfront in Liverpool with the marina and Everton FC's Bramley Moore Dock new stadium, driving footfall north south.

'But with the Coronavirus pandemic it is fair to say that all museums are suffering and we have only perhaps a third of visitor numbers now and we are looking at a 3 to 5 year recovery. The council is running 'Without walls' which is about taking arts and culture more into the public realm and we want to be responsible for our public realm more which isn't used to the full at the moment. Perhaps because of the weather we have shied away from it in the past but the Albert Dock has become a thriving place in the last five years and with seating outside under the colonnades, and the area has become a day to early evening destination with its restaurants.'

Sally MacDonald, Director of Science and Industry Museum Manchester, spoke of the importance of collaborating with other institutions in the city post Covid-19 and the upcoming master-plan to link the outside spaces around her museum to the new Allied London development and performance venue 'The Factory':

'The Allied London development is very important. We first looked at a master plan in 2012 when we realised that we were missing a trick in only using our outdoor spaces as car parks. The site had been a freight depot for 150 years. These goods yards are fundamental spaces but we were treating them as gaps. So we have stopped the car parking and plan to invest in these outdoor spaces, not just for visitors to site but as part of a wider vision and throw open these historic entrances. There will be a physical link with the foyer of the arts venue next door - 'The Factory' -and our lower yard. We are developing our science/arts programming. We want to show how we can work together and physically locate our activities in our public realm space.

'Our ambition to open up our site to the city is symbolic of a real wish to be more than just a popular visitor destination - which we have been since the 1980's - but show our social value to young people and teachers through our STEM programme, and that we are part of the city's growth and recovery. We need to show that visibly through our public realm works. Of course, through Covid we have developed our online resources but also through going out to schools and our ambassador programme.

'Everybody thinks next year may be economically worse than this year in growth. We welcome the recent government funding but longer term funding will be needed. We need to think about our diverse audiences and offer positive approaches.'

Kirsten Lees, Managing Partner of Grimshaw's London Studio, explained that much of what Laura and Sally were concerned about also resonated with the work she is carrying out, creating a new museum of culture in the dock area of Istanbul. The Sadberk Hanim museum is funded privately by the Koc Foundation. The collection with archaeological works and artefacts dating from 6000 BC is being relocated to a listed building in a historic shipyard on the Golden Horn, a fast developing cultural and commercial district. The new museum set to open in 2023 will strengthen its position as one of the most important attractions of Istanbul's cultural life and the scheme will feature a public event space. The project is part of the Tersane Masterplan development which is regenerating a former industrial area and includes a mix of hotels, housing, offices and leisure alongside a new marina. Kirsten said:

'Working in the historic dock area is all about creating a connection to city and is much greater in idea terms than just the objects themselves. The Koc Foundation has been running for forty years with the aim of improving the well-being of the city in terms of learning, health and culture. The private collection of a small gallery in the Eastern area of Istanbul is being moved to create a new museum and gallery with the whole emphasis on how the gallery connects to everyone in a city where there is quite a conservative culture. The contemporary gallery will be more challenging, welcoming all. It has two parts - an archaeology section and an Islamic part with precious linens and costumes.

'It is part of wider master plan renovating the docklands with the help of TP Architects. My belief is that museums are living and there is a constant question of how they connect to new communities and really engage. It will be contemporary in how it displays its objects and new narratives and should continue to work to connect with future generations, and how museums build connections with local communities and really engage. The museum will create a different access point to learning and is more than looking at objects but more about understanding your relationship to objects, how they came into being and where they have come from. A huge amount has been invested in the collection to become a centre of excellence in curation.

'There is now a real drive to complete this building and we are working at a very fast pace to complete the gallery.'

Future Cities Forum will be including more of this important discussion in our forthcoming culture 2020 report.

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