This is the third in a series of guest posts on the Museums at Night blog.
Museums at Night comes early to Cambridge, as we turn the February half-term gloom to our advantage. Our Twilight at the Museums event, now in its fourth year, sees the streets of the city buzzing with excited children clutching torches and heading for the museums, as we turn the lights down low and keep the doors open later.
Cambridge has a wealth of museums of all shapes and sizes: as well as eight University museums and the Botanic Garden, we have Cambridge and County Folk Museum, the Museum of Technology and college collections such as New Hall Art Collection. Renaissance funding, through my role as University Museums Development Officer, has enabled these museums to collaborate on events such as Twilight, resulting in an event far larger and more successful than any individual museum might be able to deliver.
Each museum benefits from central coordination and promotion of the event, leaving them free to focus on putting on their own activities as part of the evening. And when you give a group of imaginative education officers a small budget and a spooky theme, you can be sure a brilliant assortment of activities result. We’ve had snarling dinosaurs, nocturnal animals, starlight trails and found bodies (well, mannequins) under the cases. We’ve used storytellers, artists and actors to explore the dark polar winter, the sky at night, the deep abyss of the ocean and the glasshouses of the Botanic Garden, and along the way we’ve made silhouettes, owl masks and sparkly sunglasses.
Most importantly, what do the visitors think of this? “It’s free and it’s fun” sums it up. ‘We loved the vibe with loads of kids all into it, rather than the silence, hoping your kids aren’t bored” wrote another visitor. “We never knew the Whipple Museum existed before today, we spent ages there!” posted a visitor on the Cambridge University Museums Facebook page, backing up our evaluation which suggests that around half of last year’s 6000+ visits were first-timers. “We’ll be back, thanks for helping us discover these museums” said another.
In amongst all the hustle and bustle of a packed-out museum, my own personal highlights are more unassuming but no less inspiring. Time and again, I come across a Twilight visitor using their torch to illuminate an object and in doing so looking closer, longer and more deeply– truly seeing it in a new light.
Liz Hide is Renaissance Museums Development Officer for the University of Cambridge. Her role includes supporting and developing collaborations between the University’s museums, and with the wider museums community. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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