The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter reopened in 2011 after four years of regeneration, and is currently the Art Fund Museum of the Year. Camilla is telling the story of a “Home for a Million Thoughts”.
RAMM opened in 1868 as a 3D encyclopedia of the world, aimed at educating the local population. It was funded by local subscription, not philanthropy, so there is still a strong feeling of local ownership.
People were glad the Museum had the investment for regeneration, but often asked “you aren’t going to make it worse, are you?” The project team asked two key questions: What is the role of museum collections in the information age? and How do we expect visitors to benefit from their visit?
To answer the second question first, the museum is still about education and personal growth, inspiration and creativity. So the Museum staff offer interpretation to visitors, quite different from the original prescriptive approach.
“Home for a Million Thoughts” tries to encapsulate the spark that happens when a human mind encounters a real object. This is something that can’t be found replicated over the internet, hence the answer to the first question.
This led to implications for laying out the Museum, firstly the taxonomy of how galleries are structured and what objects they contain. RAMM will always be collection-led. The regeneration created narratives, immersive exhibitions, such as the gallery on history of Exeter. This produces richer engagements between objects, and a touch of magic.
Then RAMM contains shared space where people of all backgrounds can come together. It aims to provide room for delight, humour, surprise and other human emotions. “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else, and seeing something different.” RAMM hopes to enable moments of discovery by linking the past with ideas for the future.