Thursday, 22 October 2009

Reopening of Ulster Museum

I carried out the official opening of the refurbished Ulster Museum on the 80th anniversary of the original official opening in 1929.  Today the Ulster Museum is part of National Museums Northern Ireland.

The project cost £17.2m and was funded by the Northern Ireland Executive and Heritage Lottery Fund.  There was also a substantial donation by an American philanthropist.

The reopening completed the refurbishment of three of our major public buildings in Belfast - the Ulster Hall, Belfast City Hall and Ulster Msueum. 

In the course of my speech I said, 'For many years there was an underinvestment in our cultural infrastructure but Northern Ireland is now coming towards a place where we have a cultural infrastructure fit for the 21st century.'

I also took the opportunity to talk about my vision for museums and said that in response to a report by the CAL committee at Stormont, we are now preparing a policy for museums.  'That policy will help to provide a strong context for the work of museums and for museum development in Northern Ireland.'

The policy will recognise that museums are custodians and conservers of our heritage but they are more than that.  They can contribute to a 'shared and better future', they can help us to understand our cultures and identities, they can help us to see the complexities and contradictions of our history, they can dispel myths and misunderstandings, and they can contribute to social inclusion and social cohesion.  The policy will also refer to cultural rights and the responsibility of my department and its arms-length bodies, including National Museums, to meet the cultural rights of the people and communities in our society.

In setting out some elements of the museums policy I was giving the audience a flavour of what it will contain but I was also showing that as Minister of Culture I take museums seriously and I have a passionate commitment to ensuring that we have a first class museum sector in Northern Ireland.

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