Museum makeovers and community co-design

In recent years, cities have increasingly recognised the importance of cultivating a sustainable and inclusive culture. The Eurocities Lille Call to Action is a significant commitment that cities can sign to embrace these principles. Glasgow, a city that has always prided itself on its rich cultural heritage, has also taken up this call and is implementing actions to make these principles a reality.

Breaking down barriers

Naomi Shoba, Glasgow’s ‘Agent for Change’ or the Senior Arts & Music Manager at Glasgow Life

One of the fundamental principles outlined in the Eurocities Lille Call to Action is providing access to cultural programs for all and addressing barriers preventing vulnerable groups from participating fully in the city’s cultural life. Glasgow has taken this principle to heart and created the ‘Agent for Change’ position, also known as the Senior Arts, Music Manager in charge of Diversity. This role aims to improve racial diversity across Glasgow’s cultural scene.

The Agent for Change initiates collaborations between Glasgow Life, artists, practitioners, audiences, and stakeholders to set anti-racism objectives and rethink the city’s colonial heritage. By engaging with minorities, this project aims to ascertain their needs and interests. It facilitates inclusive audience development and communication to ensure racial equality in planning, procuring, programming, performing and participating in cultural events and festivals.

Glasgow Museums and the city have a long history of exploring its connection with slavery, colonialism and imperialism, from the Peoples Palace Museum shining a light on this in the 1970s to ensuring that the 2014 Commonwealth Games Festival explored Glasgow’s links with the Empire. These narratives are further explored by the Burrell Collection, which involved over 15,000 people from the community in its redesign and reinterpretation.

the museum is inclusive, well-designed, family friendly, and engages many different audiences
— Bailie Annette Christie

A museum for all to visit…

The collection played an essential role in the city’s transformation into the thriving cultural destination it is today. Opened in 1983, it sparked the regeneration of Glasgow as a major cultural city, following decades of post-industrial decline.

“A year ago, the Burrell Collection reopened after a major refurbishment. Strong visitor numbers – over 600,000 people in the first year – and the overwhelmingly positive feedback is that the museum is inclusive, well-designed, family-friendly, and engages many different audiences,” explains Councillor Bailie Annette Christie, Chair of Glasgow Life, the city’s cultural body and Chair of the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum.

The collection further exemplifies Glasgow’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity. This museum has taken steps to enhance accessibility for people with physical and sensory disabilities. The galleries and displays have been designed to ensure inclusivity, for instance, by incorporating British Sign Language, captions, and digital displays in multiple languages. “The Burrell Collection champions inclusion and accessibility for all. It’s educational, exciting, and fun,” says Bailie Christie.

They have realised the true depth of what it means for a museum to be accessible
— Professor Mary Beard

… and volunteer

The collection is an immersive experience and offers interactive games bringing a new dimension to decorative and fine art collections. Feedback from diverse groups has been used to shape the museum’s design and displays, ensuring a truly memorable experience for all visitors. “They have realised, with real rigour and imagination, the true depth of what it means for a museum to be accessible,” said Professor Mary Beard, historian, broadcaster and judge for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023. “I would encourage everyone to go and experience it.”

The museum has also made significant efforts to create an inclusive volunteer programme, removing barriers for people who couldn’t participate previously. The Burrell Collection will enable family groups, older, younger, and less mobile individuals or people who have dementia to participate in volunteering, ensuring that a broader cross-section of the community can be involved.

“The Burrell Collection is a people’s museum that will continue working closely with everyone in Glasgow on more amazing projects and to enhance the diverse public and schools programme we offer,” said Duncan Dornan, Head of Museums and Collections for Glasgow Life.

The Burrell Collection is a people’s museum
— Duncan Dornan

A green museum

Cities committing to the Eurocities Lille Call to Action have to pledge to at least one principle linked to culture inclusivity and sustainability in the sector. The Burrell Collection’s building harnesses solar energy through photovoltaic cells on the roof following a £68.25 million (€79,85 million) major refurbishment and redisplay. New specialist glass and low-energy bulbs are also used to minimise energy consumption.

The Burrell Collection has won the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023 award for its efforts to create the most accessible, inclusive, and sustainable fine and decorative arts museum in the world. “On the award of the 2023 Art Fund Museum of the Year, we are reminded of the Burrell’s significant contribution to wellbeing, to the international appeal of Glasgow and the affection felt by local people and tourists for the museum,” said Bailie Christie.

Duncan Dornan from Glasgow Life accepts the prize from Sir Grayson Perry
All this was achieved with a strong shared purpose and with the involvement of local community groups in Glasgow
— Jenny Waldman

“All this was achieved with a strong shared purpose and with the involvement of local community groups in Glasgow,” added Jenny Waldman, director of the Art Fund and chair of the judges for Art Fund Museum of the Year. The museum’s success is a testament to the dedication and imagination of its staff and volunteers, who have made it a people’s museum that genuinely belongs to everyone in Glasgow.

Glasgow has shown how the principles outlined in the Eurocities Lille Call to Action can be put into practice. The Agent for Change and the Burrell Collection proves that the city is working towards a more sustainable and inclusive cultural landscape. By embracing diversity, removing barriers to access, and fostering an environment that celebrates all cultures, Glasgow is setting a positive example for other cities to follow.

Cities who wish to join the Eurocities Lille Call to Action and contribute to creating more inclusive and sustainable local cultural policies can still do so either online or in October 2023 during the Eurocities Culture Forum in Birmingham.

To date, the call has been signed by: Amsterdam, Arezzo, Bologna, Braga, Brussels Capital Region, Cluj-Napoca, Dresden, Espoo, Florence, Ghent, Glasgow, Guimaraes, Kharkiv, Lille Metropole, Ljubljana, Manchester, Montpellier Metropole, Nantes Metropole, Odunpazari, Oulu, Reims, Rennes, Saint-Denis, Tallinn, Tampere, Varna, Vienna, Clermont Ferrand, Colombes, Rouen, Bourges.

Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer