A report into the lessons learned from the first world war centenary shows how projects all over the UK, including many run by museums, made this hugely significant international event relevant and engaging to their audiences at a local level (see news analysis).
The publication, based on evidence given to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, outlines the role played by large institutions, including Imperial War Museums (IWM) and the National Army Museum, but also the work of smaller organisations such as Buckinghamshire Military Museum Trust and Gairloch Heritage Museum in the Scottish Highlands.
The report says venues used the commemorations to reach new audiences and to share lesser-known histories, such as the 1.3 million Indian soldiers who served in the war. It also concludes that there was widespread public support for an arts-based approach to commemorations, much of which was led by the 14-18 Now programme. This included Jeremy Deller’s We’re Here Because We’re Here project, which involved events across the UK.
The conclusions are largely positive, although missing from the 11 recommendations is any mention of the vital role played by funding. Surely, the key reason that the impact of the commemorations was so widespread was the huge amount of money ploughed into the events and activities.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund invested nearly £100m in first world war centenary projects from 2010 to 2019. Most were funded through its First World War: Then and Now programme, with almost £15m going to more than 1,700 community projects.
Almost 10 million people participated in these centenary projects. Millions also visited IWM London’s £40m First World War galleries, which opened in 2014 and received £6.5m from the Heritage Fund and £5m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There were also the 35 million people who engaged with the 14-18 Now centenary cultural programme, which was given £10m by the Heritage Fund.
All this shows that museums, galleries and heritage sites of all sizes are brilliant at engaging audiences with important global stories but, unsurprisingly, they need the funding and support to do so.
Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal