Monthly Archives: March 2011

Lauren Laverne launches Museums at Night at the Enchanted Palace

There are a few sore throats (from lots of talking) and sore feet (from our immensely glamorous shoes) at Culture24 Towers today … for last night our campaign ambassador, the fabulous Lauren Laverne, launched this year’s campaign at Kensington Palace! You can read Culture24’s official story, with excerpts from Lauren’s speech, here.

But this is our story I’m telling here. We travelled up from Brighton to London in the afternoon, and as we were pulling in to Victoria saw a fantastic good omen a couple of tracks away – a steam train!

Three excited people in a train carriage

Nick, Anra and Jane on the train

Arriving at the Palace, our advance party had the chance to explore the Enchanted Palace exhibition: the idea is that you go on a quest to find out stories from the lives of seven princesses who once lived at Kensington. You’re encouraged to investigate the artworks, installations and designer dresses, ask questions of the explainers and interact with performers from WILDWORKS Theatre Company – a really innovative and unexpected experience.

A woman seated upon a knitted throne playing with her mobile phone

Culture24 director Jane Finnis in her natural habitat: seated upon a magnificent knitted throne

Of course, I’m sure you’ll want to see our fabulous frocks: here are the Culture24 crew posing outside the Orangery before the evening kicked off. Don’t we look lovely?

A photo of a line of people in a formal garden

The Culture24 team - we do scrub up nicely

From left to right: writer Ben Miller; writer Laura Burgess; activities editor Conrad Westmaas; network and marketing coordinator Ruth Harper; PR coordinator Pandora George; chair of Culture24’s Board of Trustees John Newbigin; head of programmes Anra Kennedy; editor Richard Moss; finance coordinator Tessa Watson; director Jane Finnis; Museums at Night project manager Nick Stockman; Museums at Night project coordinator Rosie Clarke; arts writer Mark Sheerin; technical producer Larna Pantrey-Mayer; Museums at Night intern Signe Troost. Phew!

A photo of a woman in a gold jacket on a podium

Lauren Laverne speaks at the Museums at Night launch

And now, the question everybody’s been asking us: what was it like meeting Lauren Laverne in real life? Well, she was ravishingly gorgeous in a golden jacket and vertiginous high heels, yet very down-to-earth. Within minutes of stepping through the door she complimented me on my dress and Larna on her hair, before floating upstairs in a golden aura of charisma and loveliness. We are all slightly smitten. She gave an enthusiastic speech explaining why she supports the campaign, then chatted with guests from the arts and heritage world, and happily posed for photos among the exhibitions.

A photos of a woman in a bedroom with enormous puppets

Lauren Laverne in Queen Victoria's bedroom - the Room of Imaginary Friends

Thanks to photographer Charlotte Macpherson for taking photos on the night, and to everyone from Blue Strawberry Catering for the drinks and canapes. We’re also incredibly grateful to Tim Powell, Charlotte Winship and the entire efficient, good-humoured team at Historic Royal Palaces for all their help in facilitating the event. I hope everyone who came had a great time, and that we’re all inspired for Museums at Night weekend (Friday 13th – Sunday 15th May!)

A glamorous couple descending a wood-panelled staircase

Nick and I ready to welcome visitors to our lovely Palace. Sorry, THE lovely Palace.

All the photos in this post are courtesy of Charlotte Macpherson, who can be contacted on

Guest post: Chantal Condron of the Government Art Collection asks, “Are you sitting comfortably?”

Our latest guest post comes from Chantal Condron, curator of the Government Art Collection in London – their unusual Museums at Night event is themed around bedtime stories!


Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

‘Tantalising’, ‘enlightening’ and ‘unexpected’ – asked to sum up in one word their experience of moonlight-themed tours at the Government Art Collection (GAC) last year, these were just some of comments left by visitors who came to our Museums at Night evening talks. We were pleased to elicit such a warm response for our first year of participation in the event, so much so that we’re joining in again this year.

People looking at video art on screens

Visitors to the Government Art Collection's Museums at Night event last year

I hope that we can unexpectedly surprise visitors once again when we open our doors for ‘Bedtime Stories’, three talks based upon a display of works from the Collection that take place on each evening of Friday 13 and Saturday 14 May. The display, ‘The Devil’s Acre’, has been selected by Will Cooper, an MA student on London Metropolitan University’s Curating the Contemporary course. Will has collaborated with Sally O’Reilly, writer, critic and currently writer-in-residence at the Whitechapel Gallery, to weave together engaging (and amusing) fictional narratives based upon the characters and landscapes depicted in a selection of historical works spanning 1750–1900.

Will is one of five MA students based at London Metropolitan University who, since September last year, have been working alongside specialist staff at the GAC, investigating the Collection and observing at first-hand the range of curatorial to technical skills used on a day-to-day basis at the GAC.

For each ‘Bedtime Stories’ event, visitors can follow Will through the display, listening to him spinning stories on the way. Afterwards there will be a chance to see behind the scenes in the GAC’s technical workshop and racking area, led by one of the GAC staff.

A man bursting through a door in a blur of excitement

MA student Will Cooper is ready to spin stories for visitors

Booking is essential for our Bedtime Stories events. There will be three talks per evening, starting at 6.30, 8.00 and 9.30pm. Each will last approximately 80 minutes, and is suitable for children 12 years and over. To book or for more information, call 020 7580 9120 or email I look forward to seeing some of you there!


A woman in a painting storeroom

Chantal Condron

Chantal Condron is Curator, Information and Research for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Government Art Collection, London. You can find out more about the Collection at or on our Facebook page,

New helpful video: Make the most of your event listing!

Going through all the Museums at Night events in our database, there are a few opportunities to really market your events that you may not be making the most of. I’ve made a video explaining how even the simplest of events can be described in ways that get readers’ attention.

There are also some exciting benefits to our new DDE system you may not be aware of: for example, you can now add a picture into every event and exhibition listing! Watch the video and learn more:

Whatever event listing you register in Culture24’s database is exactly what we share with all our partners online, and any journalists who ask for listings related to their area of interest, so it’s worth taking the time to make it sound compelling – and, of course, to spell check your words!

Event title: Please don’t just call your event Museums at Night – that’s the name of the campaign. Use the title to give a flavour of the event which will make viewers want to click on it and find out more! For example, can visitors explore or discover something? Are you offering sunset views or talks at twilight?

Excellent event descriptions: The examples I quote from are Topsham Museum with their lovely Railway Celebration; Mill Meece Pumping Station and their poetic Night Shift; and Darkness Falling mysteriously at Coughton Court.

Essential information: Please take a moment to fill in details of the start and end times of your event, whether you’re charging for admission, if visitors need to book in advance – and if so, the phone number or email address they need to contact! If you’re targeting a particular audience, whether family or adult, you can also make a note of this. And don’t forget to tick the Programmes box marked Museums at Night 2011!

You can see all the Museums at Night events at

Find out about becoming a BBC Things to Do partner at

Do you have any other questions about Museums at Night? Drop me an email!

Guest post: Natalie Wallace on the ghosts and bats of Knebworth House

The latst in our series of guest posts comes from Natalie Wallace, Education Officer at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, who explains the secrets behind the success of their Museums at Night event last year.


14th May 2010 was the first time that the public could make an evening visit to Knebworth House, home of the Lytton family for over 500 years and one of Hertfordshire’s most famous haunted historic houses.  We decided to embrace the night-time setting!

A stately home dramatically lit up at night

Knebworth House is a striking sight at night

Our evening drew on a ghost tour we already offered, which gives our visitors the chance to hear the stories of unexplained events that are found throughout Knebworth’s history while visiting the scene.  Grisly tales, such as that of Jenny Spinner, who is said to have been incarcerated behind a wall in a wing of the house, are always popular.  But this time, we were able to add to the atmosphere by dimming the lights for an extra spooky effect!

We highlighted how this affected the literary offerings of Knebworth, with our Victorian novelist Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton’s supernatural story ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ offered at a special discounted price in our gift shop.

A historic house lit up at night

A bat walk enabled vistors to appreciate the wildlife in Knebworth's grounds in a different light

We also used the context of night as an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the species of bats found around our estate.  This part of our evening was supported by the Herts & Middlesex Bat Society, who led our bat walk and demonstrated some of the furry creatures.

Our Ghost Tour and Bat Walk evening also included a tasty supper and was a sell-out, with 75 adults attending.  Part of our success, we believe, was adapting an event we already felt confident about, and using experts (our friends at the Bat Society) for an area that was more specialised.  Although the late hour and scary content meant that our event wouldn’t have suited everyone, the chance to see the spooky side of a historic house appealed to lots of people.  We’ve been able to increase our marketing this year with a listing in our Special Events brochure – so we’re hoping for another great turn-out!


A smiling woman in a purple top

Natalie Wallace


Natalie Wallace is the Education Officer at Knebworth House (, and is looking forward to running their Ghost Tour and Bat Walk again on Friday 13th May.

Unleash the flames of publicity: Register your Museums at Night events by Wednesday 30th March!

Welcome back everyone – I hope you had a lovely weekend! I wanted to quickly write about publicity opportunities you can take advantage of – by simply investing a few minutes of time now. This may not be relevant to you, gentle reader who has already registered your Museums at Night event – but if you know anyone at a nearby arts or heritage venue this applies to, please forward this post on to them!

Here in the Culture24 office, Museums at Night HQ, we’re already getting a lot of media enquiries about the Museums at Night campaign. Newspapers, magazines and websites from across the world (I’m not kidding – a publication from Hong Kong just contacted us this morning) are all asking for press releases, images and event listings connected to their particular area of interest, whether it’s events happening in art galleries, performance events, events in Yorkshire, or simply everything family-friendly.

A photo of an over-excited person about to unleash fire

Something potentially awesome about to happen, both literally and metaphorically

Of course, we reply straight away with our latest press releases and the link to our media image library (got some good high-res pictures of people enjoying themselves at your venue, ideally at night or at least in atmospheric lighting? They could be reprinted around the world: please send them to PR coordinator Pandora by emailing

Then we interrogate the Culture24 database to find a list of all the events that meet their criteria – and send them through. Now, if you’re planning an event in Yorkshire, or London, or Southend, or wherever you are, and you’ve started your local marketing by publicising it on your website and in your local paper, that’s a great start! Now, I may have discovered your event listing through Google Alerts, cross-checked that it’s not listed in the Culture24 database, and found the time to phone you to ask you to register it with us. Or I may not have done this yet. Either way, you could have been part of Culture24’s wider Museums at Night PR campaign, and reached completely new audiences – you could have been a contender – but you missed out, because you haven’t registered the event in our central database!

It’s completely free to register an event listing, and takes less than five minutes. There are step-by-step instructions here: How to register your Museums at Night event.

A moment of win, unleashing flames in a hot air balloon

Unleashing the awesome power of fire - a metaphorical representation of what happens when you register your Museums at Night events

Once you’re logged in, if you haven’t updated your venue record for a while, please take the time to double check your details and make sure that your venue looks as rich and inviting as possible. Have you uploaded an image? Are your opening hours, ticket prices and contact details correct? Have you described the collections you hold? You don’t only have to use your Culture24 entry to promote your Museums at Night events: you can list all your upcoming events and exhibitions, and even list any educational resources you offer (which can also be tagged to the National Curriculum).

Our next deadline is Wednesday 30th March. If you haven’t yet registered your event, please do so by next Wednesday – that’s 9 days away – to ensure that it’ll be included in our next series of press releases. Every year, our evaluation survey shows venues saying “We should have started our planning and marketing earlier…” so register now. You know it makes sense!

If you have any questions, please get in touch sooner rather than later, ideally by Friday – as next week I’ll be busily preparing for our campaign launch on Wednesday night! Email or call 01273 623336.

Guest post: Oliver Briscoe from the National Waterways Museum presents site-specific theatre from their youth drama group

Our latest guest post comes from Oliver Briscoe, Marketing & Events Manager of the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port.


This is the first year that we at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port will be taking part in the Museums At Night programme and we can’t wait!

Our site, which has 14 buildings and seven and a half acres of land, is a magical place at twilight, but it’s not a view of it which the public generally get to see. We have held concerts and canal cruises at night before, but this will be the first time that all the parts of the museum will be open so late.

A watering can decorated in traditional canal painting style

Traditionally decorated watering can

And to make the event more special we’ll be showcasing our new youth drama group – who will be presenting a range of stories from the characters who make up the rich canal culture. This is a really exciting new group which has been brought together by our new Youth Activities Co-Ordinator, Gaynor La Rocca. We’re a very successful museum at getting volunteers involved with the day to day running and the hard work of looking after the boats in the collection – but like a lot of other museums we do have challenges in getting younger people enthused about our work.

Gaynor has been working at the museum for a few months now and she’s been great at getting several programmes off the ground – in addition to the youth drama group there is a regular stand up comedy course and the budding comedians will be performing on our trip boat at the Easter Boat Gathering. Young comedians performing on canal boat cruises is certainly not something which the usual image of a canal museum conjures up!

A barge moored by an old industrial building

A canal boat moored at the museum

So this group of talented youngsters is a great resource for the museum and one which we’ll be making good use of in the future to make the museum really come alive. They are working hard on preparing a piece of site specific theatre which they have devised themselves and will perform on May 28 – 30.

We’re looking forward to our Museums at Night event – it will be the first time for a while that the museum has been able to take part in such a high profile event and it’s a real milestone in our renaissance – and our youth drama group telling tales of generations past will be the icing on the cake.

A photo of two old boats

Scorpio, peacefully moored at the National Waterways Museum


A photo of a man in a coatOliver Briscoe is Marketing and Events Manager at the National Waterways Museum , a role he has held since June 2010. He has also worked at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse in his native Norfolk and worked as a journalist, magazine editor and press officer before making the move into museums. He has not yet been let loose at the tiller of a historic boat, but hopefully he’ll get to have a go this summer.

Promotional opportunity: Conrad Westmaas explains how your activities can feature on the BBC’s Things To Do website

The new BBC Things To Do website is launching in early April. Whether or not you’re taking part in Museums at Night, you may be interested in the opportunity for your venue’s activities to feature on it – so I’m turning the blog over to my colleague Conrad to explain a bit more!


With Museums at Night back and bigger than ever (I’m blocking out that weekend and choosing a new sleeping bag as we speak) Culture24 is launching another way for cultural organisations to promote their events and activities.
Culture24 is now the official cultural data provider to the BBC. This three-year partnership gives museums, galleries, libraries and heritage sites the chance to feature activities on a new BBC Things To Do website.

A colourful website

Turn on BBC One, Two or Four on any evening and you won’t have to wait long to find a history programme. From Ancient Britain to 20th century cinema, Normans and Romans to high street history, the BBC has a massive commitment to history broadcasting over the next few years and have launched the Hands on History campaign to encourage BBC viewers to get closer to history events in their area via Things To Do. There are more project themes on the way, but when the site launches at the start of April, the spotlight is very much on history.

The beauty of this partnership is its simplicity. Publicly-funded or not-for-profit cultural organisations that run history-themed, free, hands-on activities can register through this online form. Once approved, you can tag which activities you’d like to feature on Things To Do. After a history programme airs, BBC audiences are encouraged to head to the Things To Do site to find activities in their area. Last year’s Turn Back Time series averaged 5.3 million viewers per episode.

An image showing different activities

My role as Activities Editor is to register partners and channel activities to the BBC site. Since the partnership was announced last year, more than 300 organisations have registered and I’m really looking forward to seeing all their activities get the attention they deserve via Things To Do.

If you would like to feature your activities on the BBC Things To Do website, simply fill out the online form here:

A photo of a magnetically attractive gentleman

Conrad Westmaas. Image courtesy Magnus Hastings

For more details, or if you need any help to register or upload your BBC activities, please contact Conrad by emailing

Guest post: Virginia Mayes-Wright from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses on museum sleepovers

The latest in our series of guest posts comes from Virginia Mayes-Wright, the Director of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, who shares what she’s learned through years of running museum sleepovers.


I’ve always run sleepovers in museums, and I’ve slept in some really odd places. Any museum can run a sleepover, it just needs a bit of planning, the right group for you and a bit of floor to sleep on.

I tried to join the British Museum’s Young Friends at the age of 16, but was told I was too old – so I asked to volunteer. My first museum sleepover there was an incredible experience, opening my eyes to what a gallery could be like at night and how the space could transform. Even a big space such as the British Museum’s Egyptian Sculpture Gallery can feel intimate: a museum at night feels like it belongs to the group inside it. And what better way to get kids interested in museums and galleries than to give them the chance for it to be their space for the night?

Sleepovers at the British Museum involve about 250 adults and children in families. They are split into smaller groups of about 50 to do a series of activities in the evening and the morning. These normally finished with building something gigantic. The Viking long boats were my favourite, probably because we had to stick them together at the surreal hour of 1am after the kids went to bed.

My role at the British Museum was an usher, moving the groups between the different activities. I learnt a lot about the mechanics of organising the event as well as several useful tips. Mostly, I learnt that parents (or the supervising adults) are generally more trouble than the kids! But once everyone gets stuck into the activities, you can’t tear them away. We once ran an activity that involved building pyramids out of sticks, and suddenly had a room full of engineer dads competing to build the biggest structure…

Girl Guides gathered around a cardboard model in a museum

Making cardboard models inspired by museum objects is a popular activity

The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses is a lot smaller. We have a fantastic museum building but it’s much smaller-scale than the British Museum. In fact, as we have so few staff I run sleepovers on my own. So we target a completely different type of group to sleep over, one that I can manage and who already have a keen group identity. This tends to be local Guides, Scouts, and Boys Brigades etc. They come in a small group, already know each other, have a uniform and a strict sense of discipline within the group. The leaders are also very aware that the group is their responsibility, and they are used to sleepovers.

Depending on the group I plan four or five activities in the evening at about 45mins each. I set up the activities in different spaces in the Museum so we have to physically move the group around. This getting up and moving provides a beginning and an end to the activities, even if it’s simply moving from one end of the room to another. It also keeps messy activities contained (although glitter will always travel). The activities include one that makes the kids use the artefacts, a craft activity giving the kids something to take home and remember you by – and there is always storytelling. Every museum has good stories: they’re what we are about. There is nothing better than telling the best stories with the right amount of drama at the end of the night. It also puts the kids to sleep quicker.

We also provide a snack for our groups in the evening, and breakfast in the morning. As our groups sleep on our café floor, this is really easy to manage. It also means that the kids don’t bring too much food themselves; although there is always the midnight feast!

A photo of a Girl Guide looking at the lens of a lighthouse light

A close encounter with a lighthouse lens

My hints and tips for a great sleepover:

1) Invite the right target group, and make sure they are prepared for the experience. Whether it is families or Guides, you need to know how they are going to interact together, with you and the objects. One museum sleepover involved a school group who were nothing but trouble for the whole evening because of their ‘out of school on a trip’ attitude.

2) Plan and design your activities to fit the group. I print out time sheets for the event showing each activity and hand them out. You can always alter a plan if necessary, but do start with one! I always let the group have time to get settled in when they arrive and give a brief welcome. I plan a break after the first two activities, and one at midnight for a midnight feast. Taking food breaks mean that food tends to stay in one area, the one you are sleeping in. Having seen what we can do, one of the local Guide groups now asks for us to help them earn badges. My worst sleepover was a Boys Brigade group who I presumed would enjoy making up scary lighthouse stories. But there is always a way to rescue the situation, and we ended up playing hide and seek in the lenses.

3) Always carry a torch, and keys to the building. Know where the fire alarm is, and generally be prepared for anything that could go wrong. Being stuck in the dark in a gallery because something has turned off is no fun.

4) Finally, avoid sleeping bag races. Most objects on open display in galleries are larger, heavier and more dangerous than children. If you think the kids may need time to let off steam, design a game to exhaust them.


Virginia Mayes-Wright is the Director of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses (, and is happy to answer questions about her sleepover experiences. Her phone number is 01346 511022 and her email address is You can also follow the museum on Twitter here: @LighthouseMus.

Talking about Museums at Night on Twitter? Use the hashtag #MatN2011!

This morning, I’ve got a quick update for you about how we’ll be using Twitter in the run-up to Museums at Night.

The @Culture24 Twitter account, where we share stories from our network of over 4000 UK arts and heritage venues, is proving very popular with almost 8000 followers. An example of a tweet from this account:

An image of a tweet written by Culture24

We’ll be using this account to tweet about a different Museums at Night event every day. With over 150 events already registered, we won’t be able to mention every single one, but we’ll try to highlight events taking place across the UK in a range of large and small venues.We’ll also make sure to link to each venue’s Twitter profile – here’s an example of a tweet linking to Spike Island in Bristol:

A Culture24 tweet about a Museums at Night event linking to Spike Island

If you’re interested in following the discussion about Museums at Night 2011, or would like to tweet about it yourself, please use the hashtag #MatN2011. Last year’s hashtag (#museumsatnight) was a bit too long, so we’re going for a shorter one this year.

We also own the Twitter account @MuseumsatNight, but we won’t be tweeting from it – for updates from the campaign, which is brought to you by Culture24, you should follow the Culture24 twitter account here:

Guest post: writer Laura Burgess on starring in a Museums at Night photoshoot

We really appreciate all the museums, galleries and heritage sites who have shared pictures of people exploring their venues at night: many of these are now part of our Press Image Library. However, more iconic photos were needed to publicise the Museums at Night campaign, so Culture24 worked with PR coordinator Pandora George and top photographer Pal Hansen to set up professional photoshoots. We’re also very grateful to the Horniman Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum for letting us take photos in their fantastic buildings!

In this guest post, writer Laura Burgess describes her experience modelling in one of the photoshoots.

A photo of a man and a woman dancing surrounded by sculptures

Dancing in the Victoria and Albert Museum at night, surrounded by sculptures

It’s just before six pm when my boyfriend Andy, my friend Jenny and I arrive at the entrance to the Victoria & Albert Museum. We’re greeted by photographer Pal Hansen, his assistant Louise and press officers Ellie and Pandora. At this point I’m still not sure what I’ve agreed to – this is no typical Tuesday evening.

Alongside being a journalist intern at Culture24 I was asked to help out with the promotion of the Museums at Night campaign. This makes a huge change: I’m usually behind the lens of a camera, not in front!

With the museum officially closing and the last of the visitors leaving, we help Pal carry his equipment to our location – and the adrenaline of being photographed by someone who shot Keira Knightley merely a few days earlier kicks in.

A photo of two women drinking wine at a table in a sculpture gallery

Drinks and dinner in a museum at night

As we’re led into a vast room, we three models are awed by the huge sculptures surrounding us. The first sequence of photographs involve us sitting at a small table, placed symmetrically in the middle of a huge row of sculptures on either side of us that can only be described at huge chess pieces.

Having posed with wine glasses – which helped with the nerves – we move into a courtyard area where Andy and I dance next to statues of men fighting. The brightness of my emerald-coloured dress is noticeable as Andy twirls me around. We were supposed to be acting amorously, and the atmosphere was unexpectedly romantic as we giggled and swayed.

A photo of two girls drinking wine in a sculpture gallery

Sharing secrets in the sculpture gallery

Finally, Jenny and I sit by a fountain with beautiful lighting and the image of a young, angelic-like figure looking over us. By this point we’re relaxed and having fun, after finishing almost a whole bottle of wine and getting used to being snapped. There’s a feeling of sadness when the security guards usher us off the set as our time ends. I feel delighted and privileged with the photos, and can’t wait till Museums at Night!


Laura Burgess is working for Culture24 on a three-month internship and writes a variety of articles and features for the site – from news stories to reviews. A recent graduate of the NCTJ magazine journalism course at City College in Brighton, she has previous experience working on Film and Photography magazines and has a BA in English Literature and Communication Studies from Bath Spa University. Laura has undertaken work on all areas of the site and has a particular interest in features and reviewing.


Don’t forget, if you have high-resolution photos of people enjoying themselves in your venue at night, your pictures can also be part of our image library for the press to use! Simply send the photos, along with any copyright info and the photographer’s credit, to our PR coordinator Pandora George on