Last month, I was fortunate to participate in the UK cultural delegation to Rome, sponsored by the British Council. This was a wonderful opportunity to share news of projects being undertaking at cultural institutions in the UK.
The 2-day networking meeting opened with a reception hosted by the British Ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris. Her residence provided the perfect atmosphere for an informal discussion about potential collaborations as we approach the UK-Italy year of culture in 2020.
It was also an important chance to meet colleagues from the UK (including one from Manchester!), whose paths have not necessarily crossed with my own – and as a direct result I am now in fruitful discussions with several institutions about prospective loans of our most significant Egyptian material while we are temporarily closed for our ‘Hello Future’ project. More on this soon.
I was delighted to hear several speakers mention – and indeed praise – Manchester Museum for our emerging work on decolonisation – “acknowledging that the British Empire did actually happen” – with our current exhibition on the 1919 Jallianwalla Bagh massacre cited in particular. The meeting provided a welcome opportunity to open discussion with an Italian museum about taking our award-winning UK-touring exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ to the continent – more on THAT soon as well.
A special highlight – and the main reason I went on the trip – was meeting a colleague from the Museo Egizio, whose work has lead the way in inclusivity, caring, and imagination. A recent project with Arabic speakers drew criticism from the Italian far right, highlighting the important role of museums in social and civic rights. There’s lots we can learn at Manchester Museum from our Turinese colleagues and I look forward to ongoing dialogue.
Naturally, there was also ample chance to visit museums and galleries. Thankfully, an ICOM card secured immediate entry into the Vatican Museums – otherwise I’d have been waiting in a queue of hundreds of people – inflated by those in town for Holy Week celebrations in the lead up to Easter. The Vatican’s Egyptian galleries had been reconfigured somewhat since my last visit 10 years ago, and showcase highlights of a marvellous collection – probably overlooked because of the strength of the rest of the Vatican’s incredible holdings. I got to see perhaps the best exhibition ever on the tendency of some sculptures to influence later ones at the National Roman Museum (complete with superbly effective lighting and sound – noted). I also managed almost to check off all of Rome’s obelisks…
I’m particularly grateful to our Director Esme Ward for encouraging me to apply to the programme, and hope to report further collaborations with Italian institutions soon.