On Sunday 1 July, the Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA), closed its doors to enable the Museum to undergo an extensive redevelopment project.
MUSA is expected to be closed for approximately 18 months to allow the £1.6m development project to take place, with planning permission received from Fife Council last year.
The flagship museum of the University, MUSA first opened in 2008 and since then has welcomed an average of 35,000 visitors each year. They have consistently received a five-star rating from the Visit Scotland Quality Assurance Scheme, the only University museum in Scotland to do so.
A key element of what MUSA does is outreach, with more than 2,000 local school children participating each year in interactive sessions and workshops organised by the Museum staff.
The University boasts an impressive collection of more than 115,000 items, but with space limited in the town, obviously only a fraction of that can be displayed at any one time. This is one thing the redevelopment works aim to rectify.
One of the main changes made during the works will be the creation of two new temporary exhibition galleries. These will allow more space to demonstrate the University’s collections but also those from prestigious external groups. The aim for this gallery is to have three large exhibitions per year, each showcasing diverse perspectives and items.
The smaller of these galleries, the Academic and Community Engagement Gallery (ACE), will allow further work within the local community and with University academics, offering them a space to showcase their cutting-edge research.
The aim for these two galleries is to create an environment where various different groups, be they University academics, students, visitors or locals, can come together and appreciate a variety of stimulating themes. The two galleries are expected to be accompanied by an ever more extensive school and public engagement programme.
In addition to these changes, the two permanent galleries are to undergo a remodelling that will ensure visitors will be able to see and enjoy more of what the Museum has to offer.
A major change, and a very important one, will be the introduction of a state-of-the-art environmental control system. At the moment seasonal changes have meant that certain materials can only be displayed at specific times in the year, but this improved, museum-standard system will be in effect across the whole Museum, enabling the greater display of a number of environmentally sensitive items.
A new studio/workroom will also be introduced on the first floor of the current MUSA building. This will provide space for increased collections and potential base for artists-in-residence, whilst also offering room for storage.
Further space for MUSA’s important work will be enabled by the creation of a new lobby area at the front of the building, and it has been designed in keeping with the original building and its historical surroundings.
Of the changes, Dr Helen Rawson, Co-Director of the Museum Collections Unit at the University of St Andrews, said, “The extension of the museum presents a wonderful opportunity to increasing the range of material on display through a fascinating programme of changing temporary exhibitions, many developed in partnership with academic colleagues and the local community. This will allow us to showcase dynamic University research and highlight fascinating material in the University’s Museum and Special Collections as well as extraordinary loans.
“We look forward to reopening in 2019 and welcoming new and existing users to the wonderful new facilities,” Dr Rawson said.
Whilst the physical MUSA may be closed, their team are still hard at work. A lengthy process of digitisation has been underway for a while, with anyone now able to search their extensive database through the Museum’s website. Visitors are now able to search University collections for information and learn about the vast range of objects held by the University.
Likewise, in MUSA’s absence, the University’s other museums are still open. The Bell Pettigrew Museum, the University’s dedicated zoology museum, is located in the Bute Building and its fascinating exhibits are available to view by appointment throughout the academic year.
Similarly, the Collections Centre on North Street is still open to appointments, whilst MUSA’s closure means even more work taking items to local schools can be done.
MUSA’s closure will be a loss to the town for the next 18 months, but the changes in prospect are incredibly exciting and will enable the museum to stay at the pinnacle of University museums across Scotland with even more exhibits and collaborations with outside bodies.