As Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Thinktank science museum merge, director Professor Ann Sumner tells Neil Elkes how she plans to display the city’s cultural offerings on a world stage.
Professor Ann Sumner has just returned from Tokyo, where she witnessed the Japanese flocking to see works by pre-eminent Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.
It is the first time the Birmingham-born artist’s works have featured in an exhibition at the Mitsubishi Museum and 53 out of the 80 works have come from Birmingham Museum’s extensive collection.
“There is a huge appetite for the Pre-Raphaelites in Japan. It has been a good way to raise the profile of Birmingham,” Prof Sumner explained.
“People were asking me about the city and saying they would like to visit – I told them they could fly direct to Birmingham Airport.”
Meanwhile, Birmingham has one of the largest collection of Japanese fine and decorative art outside the country with a collection of prints and sword fittings which was created in 1873 – a selection of which are currently on display in the Bridge Gallery.
“This was also about the exchange of knowledge and making links which we can build on,” said Prof Sumner.
Following on from the successful loan of key pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard to the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC, an exhibition which was seen by more than 50,000 paying visitors, it now appears that Birmingham is learning to market its culture globally.
This profile-raising will be a key focus for the newly formed Birmingham Museums Trust and could benefit Birmingham’s culture vultures as reciprocal exhibitions arrive in the city.
A new arms-length relationship with Birmingham City Council means that the museum not only benefits from trust status but can bid for a wider range of funding.
And by teaming up with Thinktank it will benefit from joint promotion and no longer compete for visitors or funding.
Prof Sumner was appointed in April after almost five years as director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham, where she was responsible for last summer’s hugely popular exhibition of tennis art, Court on Canvas.
She is well connected in the museum and art worlds and is a member of the National Gallery’s Advisory Committee on European Paintings, a committee member for both the Ironbridge Gorge Museums and Aberystwyth School of Art and on the steering group for a proposed lawn tennis museum at Edgbaston.
She arrived at her desk at Birmingham Museum’s Trust with an extensive programme of events and developments already in place.