Following a long closure which was extended considerably by the pandemic, the reimagined Thackray Museum of Medicine will finally greet visitors with 11 new galleries filled with content that has never been so relevant.
Central to the project was a dynamic redisplay of its unique and varied collections, alongside a fresh take on some of its most beloved storylines, such as a scenic journey through the disease-ridden slums of Victorian Leeds.
Underpinning the new interpretation is an inclusive message to modern audiences about how people throughout history have struggled and triumphed against disease, crisis and adversities both mental and physical.
Interpretive designers The Creative Core joined the project early on to help the museum secure funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and others. The team has since delivered the interpretation planning, exhibition design, manufacture and installation of the new visitor experience.
The Creative Core’s new interpretation scheme developed links redisplayed collection objects to key stories and themes, engaging audiences through layered interpretation and a fresh exploration of contemporary healthcare issues.
With some big topics on the agenda – including birth and mortality, sex and identity, and living with a disability – the museum aims to be a safe space for open and honest dialogue about healthcare issues through historic collections and contemporary stories. At the same time, accessibility maps let visitors plot a course to avoid situations where they might feel uncomfortable, without missing out on the rest of the museum experience.
A new Normal + Me gallery uses challenging objects and real-life experiences to examine the idea of a ‘normal’ human body in medical history, encouraging visitors to question current perceptions of normality in today’s society. The Creative Core worked with the museum to co-curate these stories with people who could bring fresh perspectives and meaning to often sensitive topics, drawing from their own lived experience of health conditions, impairment and identity.
Significant innovations in the history of healthcare are explored in dedicated galleries, each with a different tone and interpretive approach. A gallery of field hospital tents explores medicine in wartime and the effects of PTSD, while next door visitors can step into a seventies-style sexual health clinic for a light-hearted look at contraception and STDs.
“The Thackray is a medical museum like no other”, says Harriet Whitehead, lead designer at The Creative Core. “The new galleries offer so much variety, each have their own curious objects and intriguing stories to tell. What I enjoyed most was being able communicate different feelings and emotions through the design of each space, plus the challenge of bringing together all these different experiences into a coherent visitor journey across the museum.”
Sue Mackay, Thackray’s director of programming and collections, says the interpeative design company’s “collaborative approach throughout the project has allowed us to develop concepts effectively, taking into account community interests. This has been most important in planning for and embedding co-created projects. We are delighted with the innovative approaches we have come up with and the quality of the fit-out is outstanding.”
The Thackray Museum of Medicine will reopen to visitors when restrictions are lifted this month. The project was made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, Wellcome Trust, Thackray Medical Research Trust, Wolfson Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation and Foyle Foundation.