British Museum’s Neil MacGregor will retire on a high
“Extraordinary contribution” praised as director sets sights on Mumbai and Berlin
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 08 April 2015
Neil MacGregor is to retire as director of the British Museum in London. Now 68, he will step down at the end of December, after 13 years in the post. He is likely to be regarded as among the museum’s greatest directors in its 263-year history, particularly because of his success in developing international links and making the collection relevant to the issues of today.
MacGregor told staff on 8 April that he will find it very difficult to leave the museum, saying that working there has been “the greatest privilege of my professional life”. He added: “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.” Among the museum’s recent achievements is last year’s opening of a new extension, which includes a temporary exhibition gallery (currently with a show on Greek sculpture, until 5 July), vast storage facilities and conservation studios. Visitor numbers have been rising, reaching a record 6.7 million last year (making it the world’s second most popular museum after the Louvre). These achievements have been made against a background of severe cuts in government funding.
On his retirement, MacGregor plans to work on three projects. He will present a BBC Radio 4 series on “Faith and Society”. He plans to advise on displays at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Museum in Mumbai, which he describes as “one of the finest and most active museums in South/Southeast Asia”. Most importantly, he will chair an advisory board to make recommendations to the German minister of culture, Monika Grütters, on how Berlin’s Humboldt-Forum should present world cultures.
Richard Lambert, who took over as the museum’s chairman last July, paid tribute to MacGregor’s “extraordinary contribution”. The trustees have now started the process of looking for a successor for what he says will be “one of the best and most challenging jobs of its kind in the world”. The search for the right candidate will be international.
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