Neil MacGregor has been Director of the British Museum since August 2002 and has overseen an internationally acclaimed exhibitions programme and last year oversaw a milestone in the museums history with the opening of a new £135m World Conservation and Exhibition Centre, a facility that will better house the museum’s collection, allow greater access to its material and increase its exhibition space. Under his tenure the museum has also become the most visited attraction in the UK for eight years running with numbers increasing from 4.6m in 2002/03 to 6.7m in 2014/15 with more than 270,000 school children visiting each year.
“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,” he said. “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.” He added the museum had built strong partnerships with fellow museums across the UK, and are rapidly expanding our programme of loans and training around the world.
MacGregor said the British Museum is now ready to embark on a new phase – deploying the collection to present different histories of the world which was an exhilarating prospect that would begin 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,” he said. “To everything it does the BM 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.”
MacGregor said he would now be involved in a number of projects including working with the BBC and the BM on a new Radio 4 series on Faith and Society. As well as this he will be commencing on new international museum projects in Germany and Indian. In Germany he will be on 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 India he will be working on the presentation of world cultures with the CSMVS Museum (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India) in Mumbai and its Director Mr Sabyasachi Mukherjee, under whose tenure it has emerged as one of the finest and most active museums in south and 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.”
The museum has now started the process of looking for someone to take on what will be one of the most interesting and challenging jobs of its kind in the world.