|Dr Nick Merriman|
Dr Merriman takes over from the outgoing Director Tristram Besterman in March 2006 who is retiring after 30 years in the business and inherits some valuable and important collections at the University museum building on Oxford Rd.
The star attraction must surely be the mighty 40 foot long T. rex skeleton called Stan which arrived in November 2004 and dominates the Prehistoric Life gallery.
But the musuem boasts over 4.5 million exhibits from around the globe including butterflies and carvings from India; birds and bark-cloth from the Pacific; live frogs and ancient pottery from America; fossils and native art from Australia; mammals and ancient Egyptian craftsmanship from Africa; plants; and beetles, armour and archery from Asia.
So what's his vision for a Museum of the 21st Century?: We spoke to Dr Merriman:
• What attracted you to the post?
|Entrance to the new look museum|
"The Museum has superb staff and collections, the university has an ambition to be one of the top global universities, and Manchester as a city is hugely vibrant culturally and economically, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play a part in making the Manchester Museum the leading university museum in the world."
• It's changed a lot since the £21m facelift - how does it compare to other University museums?
"There are several things that distinguish the Manchester Museum. One is the size and range of its collections, which make it like a smaller version of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum rolled into one. Another is the fact that it is leading the way in re-thinking the role of these kinds of collections as an interface between the university and the wider community. It is unique for a university museum in the range and boldness of its public programmes, while at the same time maintaining and developing its academic excellence. It is also particularly good at collaborating with other museums in the region."
• What are the real star attractions of the Museum?
|Star of the show: Stan the T. rex|
"There are so many. The building itself is a major attraction, and I particularly like the soaring natural history galleries that we want to re-display in the coming years. In terms of objects and specimens, Stan the T. rex is clearly a major draw, as are the Egyptian mummies, particularly the mummy portraits which bring the actual individuals so vividly to life. Personally I also love the Living Cultures galleries for showing the richness and diversity of humanity. But museums are not just about their displays. The programmes we offer for schools, families and other members of the public are a real attraction, as are the innovative temporary exhibitions. And the café is great too!"
• What difference has the addition of Stan the T. rex made to visitor numbers?
"Our visitor numbers since Stan arrived have increased from 140,000 to 190,000 per year. He is one of our most popular exhibits, both with the public and the media, especially the BBC!"
• It's a superb exhibit - but is it in the best location?
"The exhibit needed to be in the context of the Prehistoric Life gallery. We are a learning institution used extensively by higher education and schools and we wish to present collections in the context of recent research. In addition, it does no harm that in order to see Stan, visitors have to travel through the rest of the Museum to get there, thereby not missing out on our other excellent displays!"
• What other plans do you have for Stan?
|Learn about the Cell at the Museum|
"Since Stan arrived, the Museum staff (led by Dr. Phil Manning, our dinosaur expert) have been very busy with a comprehensive public and schools programme, including regular Dinosaur Days. We even ran a competition with the BBC for schools, to win Stan’s head for a day. At the winning school, over 200 children saw Stan’s skull in their own school hall, also winning a day with a scientist (Dr. Manning). We intend to continue this level of programming and have been inspired to develop this idea of ‘winning a scientist/expert’ for the day for further media collaborations."
• The Museum has some excellent Egyptian exhibits - do you have any plans to make more of them?
"Very much so. The next major redevelopment will be of the Egyptian and Mediterranean archaeology galleries. We are currently working on developing a really exciting vision for them, which will mean they will be different from archaeology galleries in other museums. We then just need to raise the money to do the work!"
• Museums these days are less glass cases and more interactive - is this part of your plan for the MM?
|Egyptian exhibit at Manchester Museum|
"I think there is a need for both. We have fantastic collections, many of which are fairly fragile and need to be protected in cases. On the other hand, we also want to communicate ideas to our visitors, for example about environmental and scientific issues. Interactives for the sake of it do not usually work. We have a phrase about hands-on only working if it leads to ‘minds-on’ as well. Our aim at the Manchester Museum is to develop relationships with people so that they inspired to learn, in other words, to turn their minds – and their feelings – on, and there are many different ways of doing this."
• It's said that Londoners never go and see the Crown Jewels - do you think that's true of Mancunians and the Museum?
"A third of the Museum’s visitors are from the city of Manchester. The Museum’s visitor numbers have increased dramatically over the past couple of years, since the Museum went through a major Lottery-funded redevelopment in 2003. (The Museum currently has just under 200,000 visitors per year). The Museum sees itself as a museum for the people of Manchester and is very active in its relationships with local communities. However, it is also a museum with a national and international reach, and that’s something to be proud of too."
• What do you think is the Museum's role in the city?
|Going places: Manchester Museum|
"As a university Museum, we are committed to contributing to the social and cultural life of the city. The Museum is a gateway between the University and the people of Manchester, always looking for opportunities to make the University’s expertise and the Museum’s world-class collections relevant to the lives of local people. The Museum is a key collaborator with regional museums and works in partnership with a broad range of Manchester’s community-based organisations. Our focus is very much on building our profile in the city and region."
• Finally - there are 4.5m exhibits at the Museum - do you have a favourite?
"I’m still getting to know the collections, and it might take me a while to look at all four and a half million! At the moment, my favourite is in the Living Cultures Gallery, which is a suit of armour previously used by the warriors of the Gilbert Islands and made entirely from coconut fibre. It has a helmet made from the skull of a porcupine fish with a sword and dagger lethally edged with shark's teeth. I like it because it seems so strange to our Western eyes, yet was perfectly ‘normal’ (though of special status) in that society. But as I get to know the collections better, I am sure my favourite will change."