Thursday, 9 October 2014

Death to child-friendliness

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Tiffany Jenkins makes a timely plea
Stop children taking over our museums and galleries.
My favourite museums are ones like the wonderful National Archaeological Museum in Naples that does not even translate notices in languages other than Italian and I like obscure museums where no-one goes.  The Egypt Museum in Cairo also makes no attempt to be interesting to anyone other than scholars and yet it is one of the most interesting museums in the world.

 Sir John Soane's Museum in London, usually empty, is a great favourite. The staff refer to Soane, who left his house and wonderfully eclectic collection to the nation, as Sir John. You almost imagine he is lying dead upstairs and you are in the reign of King William IV - Lamb is slaving away at his desk, Macaulay and Thomas Love Peacock are holding breakfast parties and slavery has just been abolished.

Children should be taken to museums - I always remember with joy my beloved father showing me the Rosetta stone and the National Portrait Gallery was my childhood favourite -but they should not adapt to children. Being child-friendly means in effect coming down to the level of the average child not the brainy one. Museums should encourage brains and not talk down to children or adults. Actual things are far more interesting than plastic interactive animatronics. For children.

Bucharest used to abound in the kind of museums I like, as did all communist cities - dusty places, the sun occluded by heavy net curtains. 

One of my favourites is the the Sutu Palace, close to my flat, otherwise known as the Bucharest History Museum. As a museum it is not interesting and is rarely visited but the house, a lovely boyar's palace from 1834 is enchanting. Patrick Leigh Fermor when it was a house in 1934. In 'The Broken Road', the unfinished third volume of his travels on foot to Constantinople he remembers in advanced old age the "faint and scarcely discernible warp" of the parquet floor in the palace. Nowadays the palace, robbed of life, feels ghostly.


1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more. The National Museum in Edinburgh, which I loved all my life, has had a 'child-friendly' and 'accessibility' makeover. The grand staircase by which it was approached ("prepare to be awed") lies disused and derelict-looking, and the entrance is now through what was the basement. To raise the basement ceiling, the fish ponds in the main hall (which really were attractive to children and adults) have been removed. Only a fraction of the actual stuff remains on display, replaced by interpretation (often cringingly pc), activity stations and shopping. I can't go into the building. I literally burst into tears.

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