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Chris Grady: Unexpected Museums to delight you on tour

By • West End
Yesterday I was meant to be facilitating a discussion with a senior relationship manager of the Arts Council for the MA Arts Management students that I lead in their course. At 1.30 for a 2pm lecture I got a text saying she wouldn’t be making it because of an e-mountain which was engulfing her. Ahhh.

I thought I’d got out of delivering a major lecture on arts funding policy and practice by getting in an expert.  No notes. No time to prepare.  But a brilliant idea offered to me by another senior lecturer in the Business School… get out of the classroom, go and explore 3 museums in Cambridge with the students, and use the time to focus on the fundraising challenges for museums and cultural organisations.  Great. Brilliant.  

I decided to be fair to the students - they had a choice - either I’d do a session on the Arts Council (My wife and I are at the very least masters at the art of writing and sometimes getting awards, and I have been involved with ACE and previously ACGB for 30 years), or they could go to the Library, or we could jump to another unit of the module, or we could brave the mist and rain of Cambridge and do the museums. Split vote. Compromise. I did a 1hr lecture on Arts Council policy past, present, and hopefully future. We then donned coats and they grabbed bikes (well it is Cambridge), and off we went.

Now why tell you all this in a theatre blog. Because dear reader/s I have a secret delight that I like to share with anyone who is on the road in a show. When I have had enough of the triangular walk between digs, theatre, pub/food, digs, theatre, pub/food, digs - I break out and find a guide book and look for the museum or attraction that I think will be unusual or a talking point. Amsterdam: Our Lord in the Attic. Tokyo: Owl Museum.  Keswick: Pencil Museum.  And now we were off through the rain to start at The Whipple Museum of the History of Science. We’d been warned to ask at the front desk, because it was small and there were 15 of us. We were welcomed and it is amazing…

A celebration of sound from phonographs to ipods, of calculation from sliderules to calculators, of harmony from Helmotz Apparatus to computer keyboards. Portable telescopes,  a space full of globe designs (or the world),  prisms,  strange medical instruments and much much more - beautifully stored in openable drawers to allow the maximum sense of discovery and exploration.  There are touchable and playable things, and things with dire warning on because of their rarity and fagility. 

It delighted me and I will be back very soon. It struck me as a museum in a wonderful state of forward development celebrating new legacy donations allowing more restoration to happen. And its Free like all the museums owned by Cambridge University. With all respect to its owner, keepers, and many existing supporters I add it to my Unexpected Museums list that I will rave about to friends and visitors.

So if you like, and you’d consider adding to my list, email me other places I should visit. I’ve got to do the transatlantic cable museum in Portcurno and the gas mantle museum in Suffolk. Both are summer attractions for me.

We moved on to see one gallery of the Fitzwilliam – the exquisite Caroline Cheng porcelain Kimono. And we also had a look in the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology which has all 3 galleries shut for rewiring at the moment, but still had a man at the front desk who made us feel welcome as we explored the bright and welcoming shop and a tiny exhibition which brought stone carving from Italy to full interactive life.

I finished my day in a meeting with experts from Russia on the forward marketing of another most Unexpected Museum – the Museum of Lost Taste in Kolomno 2hrs outside Moscow. Two amazing entrepreneurs have rediscovered over 40 recipies for the ancient delights of Pastila or apple sweetmeat and they are reaching the market with favourites of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky.  They were in Greenwich delighting guests with Pastila at the inauguration of the Gagarin statue this week. News of their delicious sweetmeat will spread around the world very fast I feel sure.  I look forward to being part of that marketing journey.

Fascinating Day. Let me know your own Unexpected Museums or attractions...

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