Never on Sunday - Museums Association

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Never on Sunday

Javier Pes bemoans the museums that refuse to open their doors on Sundays
The new Creation Museum in Kentucky plays everything strictly by the Good Book. All God's creatures were made by the sixth day so, naturally, prehistoric children play with dinosaurs in galleries based on Genesis.

Whatever you think of its message, or the unintended hilarity of its animatronic displays, you've got to hand it to Answers in Genesis, the charity that runs the walk-through-Biblical experience: it knows its target audience, what they want to see and when they want to see it, which includes Sundays. That means there's no rest on the seventh day.

If only the same could be said of some museums in the UK. It used to be that the further south you went in Europe, the more 'fermés', 'chiusos' and 'cerrados' you'd find on Sunday. Paris was, as ever, a world unto itself. You can never be sure when a museum is open there - the French do like to shut them on random days of the week, sometimes for decades.

But I'm not so sure this Anglocentric stereotype still holds true. On a recent trip to Thessaloniki in Greece, the Sunday morning after the city's day of museums, the doors of the Museum of Byzantine Culture were open as usual - at 8am. By 10am, the Ecclesiastical Museum was also open for business; it's a gem of an icon museum created by the local bishop (his holiness is keen as mustard on museums, having already built two).

Of course, the great majority of museums in Britain do open on Sundays. Hats off to the numerous staff - paid and volunteers - who open their doors. It's thanks to them, and the reformers who first won the battle over Sunday opening in the 19th century. People such as Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum, overturned the idea that it was somehow ungodly, or asking for trouble, to open a public museum to the actual public on a Sunday. (And thereby provide a sober alternative to the gin palace down the street.)

But there are still a few museums that remain shut on Sunday. We're not talking about tiny museums run on a wing and prayer in out of the way places; you expect their hours to be limited. The ones that I'm thinking of are large-ish, typically local authority-run ones in city centres. It is regrettable when a swingeing budget cut means temporary closure, but some museums that close their doors on Sunday are in places that haven't done too badly in the lottery, single-regeneration budget or Renaissance in the Regions sweepstakes. What are the councillors and heads of culture thinking of?

In June's Museum Journal it was remarkable to read that the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, new extension and all, is shut on a Sunday. When Croydon Museum Service announced the opening of its hip new history gallery at the Clocktower centre, I was all set to go and see it on the first weekend. I'm glad I double-checked before leaving home, because the Clocktower always shuts on a Sunday; its library, cafe, even the David Lean Cinema, for goodness sake. Then there's the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter: it's a family-friendly centre of excellence, which is always worth a visit, but never on Sundays or bank holidays.

You never think of Blackpool as a hot bed of Sabbatarianism, but its councillors must have a puritan streak, keeping Sunday special by shutting the Grundy Art Gallery.

Back in 1953, Time magazine reported back home to the US on a failed attempt to overturn Britain's 'quiet Sunday laws'. The anomalies read like an Ealing comedy: quaint, unless you lived through them. True, you could visit a museum, but not a professional football match or other sporting event. 'A Briton may buy toothpaste, but not a toothbrush, may have his shoes repaired, but may not buy shoelaces.'

Last time I checked, there wasn't an 11th Commandment: 'thou shalt not open on Sunday, even for half a day.' Maybe the Creation Museum isn't so antediluvian.

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