Happy Birthday BMAG!

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery celebrates a major milestone this month as it marks 130 years of greatness

It’s a big, big month for Birmingham Museum and Art Galley. On the 28th the museum in Chamberlain Square in the heart of the commercial district will celebrate its 130th birthday. Opened in 1885 by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, BMAG has been at the heart of the city’s cultural offering ever since. And today through its great exhibitions and displays and interaction with communities and schools, it is more relevant to Birmingham life than ever. Home to the priceless Anglo Saxon treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard and the largest public collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings and art in the world, BMAG has quite a birthday party planned to mark its anniversary. A special exhibition traces its rich past, its position today as a major tourist attraction and its ambitious plans for the future, while events include live music, entertainment for visitors of all ages and the creation of a time capsule for future generations to explore.


Among the founding ideas when the gallery was first launched was that it should be generally free to the public and open at weekends when working people had the best chance of visiting it. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UK and abroad have taken advantage of that promise since. Dr Ellen McAdam, director of Birmingham Museums Trust – the largest independent museums trust in the UK – which runs BMAG and eight other museums and galleries in the city, including the ThinkTank science and Jewellery Quarter museums, said: “The Museum and Art Gallery was originally founded to improve the quality of Birmingham’s manufactures in the face of foreign competition by showing the city’s craftsmen the best in art and design. We continue to use the city’s great collection to inspire the people of Birmingham as well as visitors to the city.” The Staffordshire Hoard is a good example. Discovered in 2009 by a man with a metal detector on farmland near the village of Hammerwich, the gold and jewelled treasures buried more than 1,400 years ago drew crowds queuing in the street outside the historic Grade 2-listed BMAG building when they went on display later that year. Since then more than a million people have seen the collection which has its own dedicated gallery. The past is also celebrated by the Birmingham History collections which chart the city, its people and background. But BMAG is also looking to the future with its Collecting Birmingham project which works with communities via volunteers and local ambassadors in areas such as Aston, Ladywood, Nechells and Soho. Encouraging youngsters to know more about their roots and city is an important element of BMAG’s education programmes. On-site and outreach sessions are led by a specialist team of learning officers who cater for all ages from early years to further education students with interactive science shows, workshops and mobile sessions in schools. The team handles all styles of learning, including special needs and home education.


The innovative Museum In A Box project allows schools to use the museum’s collection in classrooms with more than 200 boxes available to support lessons by handling authentic artefacts, some of which are more than 3,000 years old! How cool is that? The Arts Council has called BMAG “one of the jewels in Birmingham’s crown” and leading tourist website TripAdvisor says “Birmingham’s art gallery is one of those hidden treasures waiting for you to discover”. So, happy birthday BMAG – and here’s to the next 130 years!