Ulster Museum Revitalised

A £17.2m facelift ensures the new look museum a bright future. Click Play Video for a video podcast of the new interior

National Museums Northern Ireland announced last week that more than £17 million has now been raised for the major refurbishment of the Ulster Museum. The project, which has expanded as more money has become available, will be completed in autumn 2009 with the museum opening to the public at the end of October.

Tim Cooke in the Ulster MuseumAt a sneak preview on Thursday, April 30, the press pack were allowed inside the new look Ulster Museum. Cameras at the ready, the assembled journalists were given a guided tour of the museum by Tim Cooke, chief executive of National Museums of Northern Ireland, and Dr Jim McGreevy, director of collections and interpretation.

Cooke and McGreevy divulged those existing gallery spaces that would still be in operation when the museum reopens in October whilst shedding light on those new spaces to which the museum hopes to attract 'world class temporary exhibitions' in the future.

'The main construction contract has just been completed and the emphasis now is on the internal fit-out of the exhibition galleries,' Cooke explained. 'In the last six months we have secured an additional £2 million of funding, taking our total to £17.2 million. We have been able to enhance the original project and are now entering the final phase.

'The building is shaping up into a superb museum with dramatic public spaces and galleries of exceptional quality. I think visitors will be surprised and thrilled by the extent of the transformation.'

The new layout is certainly a world away from the rather dark and shadowy museum of old. With white walls as far as the eye can see, polished steel railings and modern glass frontages, two new lifts and a stairwell leading visitors up to the various gallery spaces - most now flooded with natural light - it's a transformation that brings the museum firmly into the 21st century.

Visitors will be welcomed to a new 23-metre high entrance atrium with glass and steel walkways leading into the history, art and science galleries at different levels. A new restaurant has been created with a terrace leading out into Botanic Gardens. There will be four new learning zones and a new high-level gallery for the display of glass, ceramics, silver and jewellery. Also a new Art Discovery ZoneInside the new Ulster Museum supported by the Friends of the Ulster Museum is being created as part of the suite of art galleries.

Although there is much new about the museum, lovers of the institution can rest assured that many of the museum's existing attractions will remain, such as the Egyptian mummy and 13-metre long Philippine canoe. The museum will, however, aim to attract international art exhibitions which the Northern Irish public have too long been deprived of.
Dan Harvey, chair of the National Museums Northern Ireland’s Board of Trustees, said the re-opened Ulster Museum will play an enhanced role in education, tourism and community life in Northern Ireland.

'The new interior of the museum is visually stunning, and we are delighted with the outcome. We are also developing a range of exhibitions and events which will prove attractive to both established and new users and look forward to welcoming more visitors than ever in the autumn.'

The Department of Culture Arts and Leisure is the main funder of the project which is also being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a number of foundations and by private donations.