Museums Behind Closed Doors – Penlee House

23rd July 2020 in Penlee House

“Audiences are at the heart of what we do”
Anna Renton, Director of Penlee House Gallery & Museum

Anna Renton, Director of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, joined BBC Radio 4’s John Wilson on Tuesday evening this week for a special feature on ‘Museums in Lockdown’. Anna was interviewed alongside Joanna Meacock from Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow to discuss how museums in the UK are responding to lock down.

You can listen to the full interview on BBC Radio 4 Front Row from 15 minutes in.

Whilst museum collections are lying dormant, staff are working from home to ensure that people can still experience what museums and galleries have to offer across the country. Joanna Meacock acknowledged that having no physical access to collections is frustrating for many museums and galleries but she highlighted that staff  “are also enjoying the time to do some collections research, to do things that maybe we wouldn’t have had the time to do when everything is busy and all the visitors are in.”

Anna Renton also talked of how the friendly and busy galleries at Penlee House are currently on pause, including their new exhibition ‘Newlyn School Interiors’ that was due to launch on 21 March. However, Penlee continues to engage with the outside world: “audiences are at the heart of what we do, and we’ve moved all of our activity online. We’ve relaunched our website and we’ve been really just trying to provide as many activities as we can for our audiences.” As an important part of the local community in Penzance, Penlee has also been reaching out to people using more traditional and low-tech methods such as telephone and post to provide an inclusive outreach programme.

The reopening of museums in the UK is included in the government’s third step to lift restrictions; this is after the phased reopening of schools and non-essential retail. Based on current plans, this step will be no earlier than 4 July and will be subject to meeting the five tests. However, reopening plans will be different for each museum. In Scotland, schools will not be reopening until August, “so we are looking at probably sometime in the autumn” says Jo Meacock.

Of course, when museums do reopen, they will not be quite as they were before, “there will be social distancing in place, we’ll have restricted numbers,” says Jo Meacock. Digital engagement will need to continue, and it is expected that there will be a phased and gradual return of activities and events to ensure safety is paramount. “There are so many unknowns,” says Jo Meacock “we are having to be very open and very flexible.”

Tourism is undeniably an important part of the local economy in Cornwall and has suffered greatly due to the lockdown restrictions imposed during the Coronavirus pandemic. When asked if Penlee would be ready in time to serve an incoming audience of tourists if restrictions are lifted this summer, Anna Renton replied “we are hopeful, we’re going to open our café initially as a takeaway at the beginning of July and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that.”

Penlee House Gallery and Museum remains closed to the public but the gallery’s social media profiles are very active and there are lots of online activities available – visit the Penlee House website for more details.

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