Liverpool Museum

David Fleming

Liverpool Museum

World Museum, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EN

Liverpool, United Kingdom

The Council of Europe Museum Prize 2013 laureate

Urban history museum full of opinion, of politics, of debate

Council of Europe Museum Award 2013 Citation:

"The museum traces the social, economic and political history of a city which is one of the most socially diverse in Britainhellip;the museum has an outstanding capacity to get people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities involved and promotes in such a strong, convincing form the Council of Europe core valueshellip;The Museum of Liverpool provides an exemplary recognition of human rights in museum practicehellip;the interaction with the local community is excellenthellip;it promotes mutual respect between ethnically and socially diverse parts of society, addresses human rights through contemporary debates and dialogue and maintains an open and inclusive policy aimed at bridging cultures in every aspect of its work."

The Museum of Liverpool, a Euro 100 million project, opened in July 2011 as the UK's newest national museum.  The museum occupies a prime site next to the famous River Mersey in a part of the city that is a favourite for walks and cultural exploration. The Museum is part of National Museums Liverpool and has attracted more than 2.5 million visits since it opened. It tells the story of Liverpool and its people. Six thousand objects and countless images, stories and interactives form the Museum's exhibitions, and together they reflect Liverpool's
history, geography and culture.

In a relatively short space of time in the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain was transformed from a small, weak agrarian country, where most people lived in villages, to the world's first industrial nation. This transformation laid the foundations for the building of the greatest Empire the world has ever known.
One of the most extraordinary stories of the subsequent growth and decline of cities is the story of Liverpool. Liverpool, like many cities, has a history that is full of ups and downs. For hundreds of years no more than an insignificant fishing village, it became possibly the greatest port in the world, the main port in the biggest empire the world has ever seen; and then it went into a decline that was almost terminal.
If ever there was a city that warranted a large scale museum to explore its extraordinary history, that city is Liverpool. We said that our ambition was to create the "the world's greatest urban history museum".

When contemplating creating a new museum that told this rollercoaster story, we asked ourselves "what do we want to achieve?" Our answers included the following:
  • we wanted to be relevant to all, taking into account diversity of population, inclusivity and a layering of access
  • we wanted to capture the personality of the city and its people
  • we knew we had to consult and involve, with a lot of participation, dialogue, opinion and debate - we needed to include voices and identities
  • we knew we needed lots of partnerships - the museum had to be extensively networked with and outside the city
  • we wanted flexibility (not an overreliance on permanent display)
  • we knew the museum had to be intelligent - analytical not antiquarian
  • we wanted quality - dignity, importance, prestige and cultural authority, unlike most city history museums
  • we wanted the museum to be active, not passive
  • we were aware of the time dimension - a museum is a long-term commitment
  • we wanted to explain the modern city through analysis of the past
  • we wanted to change the way visitors think about the city and themselves
  • we wanted to create an emotional museum
  • we wanted to create a fearless and democratic museum
Because of this approach, we created a museum that quickly became the most popular in England outside the capital city of London. Creating a new museum means most obviously designing a building, but the true measure of a museum is not the building that houses it, but what it contains.

Making sense of the incredible Liverpool story was a challenge. We wanted a museum that captures the essence of this most remarkable city, that has an authentic Liverpool ls"voice', that deals with the ls"wider' Liverpool found in nearby Birkenhead, Bootle and Huyton, that appeals to different generations, and that is capable of frequent change.
We wanted to explain Liverpool. We wanted our visitors to understand Liverpool. It is very easy to grow up in a place and to love it, but actually to know very little about why it is like it is

 The Museum has four main galleries: Global City, The Great Port, The People''s Republic and Wondrous Place. It has other spaces too - the Skylight Gallery, Little Liverpool, History Detectives, City Soldiers, community and education facilities, atrium areas, as well as shop and cafeacute;.

The People''s Republic looks at the social history of the city, the stories of the ordinary people who lived and worked there.
The Great Port is concerned with the trades and industries that came to flourish in Liverpool, especially in the docks.

Global City deals with the relationships Liverpool had (and has) with other ports and nations around the world - something which is, of course, very influential in a city that was a great trading port.
Probably the most unusual exhibition gallery in the Museum is Wondrous Place. It is hard to think of many other cities where a museum would allocate so much space to a gallery devoted entirely to creativity, but the story of Liverpool is one in which entertaining and performing play a central part.

This arrangement of main galleries is based upon an in-depth analysis of the Liverpool story: any new city museum must produce its own storyline structure, and each will be different from all others.

As well as creating an outstanding urban history museum, it was important for us to create a building that would limit our impact on the environment. To this end we adopted an innovative arrangement of plant and equipment, and implemented several energy saving measures.

We believe we have created a new type of city museum: one that is democratic and emotional. It is full of opinion, of politics, of debate. It has broken a number of museum taboos. But it is a museum that is loved by the people of Liverpool:

 I still adore @MuseumLiverpool, even though it makes me ridiculously emotional. A city museum done perfectly - @donnamk79
The wonderful @MuseumLiverpool. First museum to ever make me cry. Twice - @Yaz_S


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