Meet the University of Liverpool's Museums & Galleries

Posted on: 4 March 2019 by Nicola Euston in 2018 Posts

Children in museum
"Museums matter and they change lives."

Who are the University's Museums & Galleries, and what do they do?

Nicola Euston, Head of Museums & Galleries, takes us on a tour of what they look after and what their mission is.

Museums and Galleries sits within the larger department of Libraries, Museums & Galleries. We’re responsible for the two accredited museums on campus (Victoria Gallery & Museum and Garstang Museum of Archaeology) as well as all the various collections and artworks that are dotted about.

We’re quite a small team that consists of curators, life-long learning staff, a specialist arts and museum technician and of course our wonderful visitor services team, who are often the first people that visitors meet or have any contact with.

Our mission is “to enable people to enjoy our collections for inspiration, learning, the creation of knowledge and enjoyment in line with the University’s founding mission ‘for advancement of learning and ennoblement of life’”. Our vision is “to be recognised as the most engaging, inspiring and welcoming University galleries and museums by looking forward through the past, for the advancement of learning and ennoblement of life”.

So how do we achieve this? What do we actually do and why do we do it? The why we do it is very simple, because museums matter and they change lives. Don’t just take my word for it though. In 2015 the National Museums Directors Council published a report entitled ‘Museums Matter’ that highlighted the important work that museums do and the way they influence public policy priorities. 

VGM Gallery view

'She’s Eclectic' exhibition (female artists from the VGM’s collections)

The executive summary contained a number of key facts and statements that sum up the importance of museums but I think one of the ones that I like best is this: “Museums preserve, protect and promote one of the few irreplaceable public assets: the nation’s collective memory, knowledge and history. Preserving our heritage through museums is a fundamental aspect of maintaining a healthy and prosperous civil society.”

So what do we do? Lots of things! We look after the collections both on display, across campus and in storage ensuring that they are being stored or displayed in the correct environment and we also facilitate access to collections for research. For example, we wouldn’t put a watercolour on display in bright light as it would fade it and cause irreversible damage. This is often why exhibition galleries can seem quite dark, it’s not because we like it that way but because it’s good for the object and we have to ensure that the collections are around for future generations. 

As well as physically looking after the collections, we put on exhibitions based on them or linked to research recently undertaken about them. This is probably one of the most obvious things that we do as it is outward facing. It’s also one of the most time-consuming things that we do as there is a lot of work that goes into curating an exhibition and it’s not as simple as just picking a few of your favourite objects and putting them on a wall or in a case.

We also create knowledge for and about society. An obvious example of this is the exhibitions that we curate but we also develop lifelong learning activities linked to our collections as well as formal learning activities for school groups. 

Barbara Hepworth sculpture on campus

Barbara Hepworth: ‘Square with Two Circles’, 1964

As well as all this, we also answer object enquiries, loan objects to other museums and galleries, host student placements, engage with volunteers, participate in regional events and networks and even sometimes support other museums to help them achieve museums accreditation or mentor young professionals in the sector to help them develop their career.

What we never stop doing is learning and developing and trying out new ideas. I’ll end with our core values as I think these demonstrate our thinking as a team and show how they influence what we do.  Our values are:

  • To respect all our visitors, staff and users and to treat people as individuals
  • To develop relationships with our visitors and internal and external colleagues and organisations
  • To be supportive and ask people about their needs and share knowledge and experience
  • To be creative and try something new
  • To strive for continuous improvement

Follow the Victoria Gallery & Museum on Twitter.

Follow the Garstang Museum on Twitter.