We knew he couldn’t be there for ever, but still it’s a shock to hear Neil MacGregor announce his retirement as director of the British Museum, after one of the most glorious, packed episodes in its long history. He will continue to be busy (above, on left with Ralph Jackson on a chill day at Hadrian’s Wall), but who will lead the place from next year? Simon Thurley? Someone from outside the UK? The museum’s first woman director? The view from MacGregor’s shoulders will be precipitous.
This is the BM’s release:
Neil MacGregor announced to his colleagues at the British Museum this morning that he has decided to step down as Director at the end of December 2015.
Neil MacGregor said, “It’s a very difficult thing to leave the British Museum. Working with this collection and above all with the colleagues here has been the greatest privilege of my professional life. But I’ve decided that now is the time to retire from full-time employment and the end of this year seems a good time to go. The new building has been completed, so we at last have proper exhibition space, new conservation and scientific facilities, and first class accommodation for our growing research activities. We have built strong partnerships with fellow museums across the UK, and are rapidly expanding our programme of loans and training around the world.
The Museum is now ready to embark on a new phase – deploying the collection to present different histories of the world. It is an exhilarating prospect, and it will start with the new Islamic Galleries and with plans for the future of the Old Reading Room.
The Museum is in a strong position to respond to these energising challenges. It has a distinguished international Board under a new Chairman Sir Richard Lambert. To everything it does the British Museum brings the highest levels of professionalism. Around the world it is a valued partner and the Board has clearly defined the British Museum’s role as a worldwide resource for the understanding of humanity, to be made available as widely and as freely as possible.”
Neil MacGregor added, “Although I shall no longer be working full-time I shall be involved in a number of projects.
I shall be working with the BBC and the British Museum on a new Radio 4 series on Faith and Society.
I shall be chairing an Advisory Board to make recommendations to the German Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters, on how the Humboldt- Forum, drawing on the outstanding resources of the Berlin collections, can become a place where different narratives of world cultures can be explored and debated.
In Mumbai, I look forward to working on the presentation of world cultures with the CSMVS Museum and its Director Mr Sabyasachi Mukherjee under whose tenure it has emerged as one of the finest and most active museums in South/South East Asia.”
Chairman Sir Richard Lambert said,
“Neil MacGregor has been an outstanding Director of the British Museum and has made an extraordinary contribution to public life in the UK and beyond. The Trustees are hugely grateful for everything he has done to bring the collection to life, and to tell its many different stories. We respect his decision to move on, and want to support him in his new projects. We are now starting the process of looking for someone to take on what will be one of the best and most challenging jobs of its kind in the world. The Museum is in great shape, and we are fortunate to have an outstanding team in place to lead its activities and help build its future with the new Director. The collection of the British Museum is in a real sense the memory of mankind and the task is to present it in the best possible way in and beyond Bloomsbury for the benefit of present and future generations.”
The German Federal Minister of State for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters said,
“I am immensely grateful and more than happy that Neil MacGregor with his wide-ranging experience of world cultures and his deep knowledge of Germany will support us in making our most ambitious cultural project happen – the Humboldt-Forum. We are very fortunate that Neil MacGregor has agreed to take on the task of chairing the advisory committee. I am convinced that with his skill in presenting global narratives and his persuasive powers and determination, he will help shape the Humboldt-Forum as a successful institution with an ambitious programme that best serves the public in Berlin, Germany and internationally.”
The institution Neil MacGregor leaves in 2015 is
• the most visited attraction in the UK for eight years running. Numbers have increased from 4.6 million in 2002/03 to 6.7 million in 2014/15. Over 270,000 school children visit the Museum each year. The British Museum is the second most visited museum in the world and has a virtual audience of over 35 million.
• several galleries housing the permanent collection have been splendidly refurbished thanks to generous benefactors.
• has an internationally acclaimed exhibitions programme including ‘The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army’ 2007, ‘Afghanistan: Crossroad of the Ancient World’ 2011, ‘Grayson Perry: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ 2011, ‘Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam’ 2012, ‘Ice age art: arrival of the modern mind’ 2013, ‘Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ 2013, ‘Vikings: life and legend’ 2014 and ‘Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation’ this year.
• the British Museum is the most generous lending collection in the world from Tehran to St Petersburg, Mumbai to Nairobi. Over 5,000 objects travelled to 335 venues in the UK and internationally in 2013 – 2014,
• the British Museum is an integral part of the UK wide network of museums with seven partnership galleries throughout the UK and more to follow. In the past year 3 million people saw British Museum objects at partner museums. UK citizens are now more likely to see a British Museum object on loan at partner museums around the country than in London.
• the global story from the British Museum’s collection told in the 100 part BBC Radio 4 series, presented by Neil MacGregor ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ has been downloaded over 40 million times. Biography Born in 1946, Neil MacGregor studied languages at Oxford, philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, and Law in Edinburgh, before reading History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He lectured at the University of Reading and the Courtauld Institute. In 1981 he became Editor of The Burlington Magazine and Director of the National Gallery in 1987. He has been Director of the British Museum since August 2002.