Neil MacGregor Wolfson Anniversary Lecture: The Importance of Museums to the Health of Society

Neil MacGregor Wolfson Anniversary Lecture: The Importance of Museums to the Health of Society

June 2015

In his first major speech since announcing his retirement from the British Museum, Neil MacGregor underlined the importance of access to museums and galleries "as a way to understand ourselves and our place in the world." He emphasised the critical role of these institutions as "neutral spaces" to tackle significant global issues. Paying tribute to the Wolfson Foundation’s legacy of "prodigious and incomparable support" to over 200 museums and galleries in the UK during its 60 year history, MacGregor also warned of the struggles faced by regional museums to communicate history within a British context in the face of devolved cultural authorities:

"The role of museums and galleries in enabling people to explore, question and discover the world in which they live is absolutely vital to the civic understanding, education and health of society. The idea of the museum community in the UK is one that is very firmly rooted in a long history of collaboration and co-operation – something that the devolution of cultural authorities has made more complicated. The question we must ask is: how do we ensure – in spite of different devolved authorities with different cultural powers – that the idea of a shared inheritance for the whole UK is made real, and accessible to all?"

Neil MacGregor speaks at the 60th anniversary of the Wolfson Foundation. Wolfson College, Oxford, 8 June 2015. Behind him, on the screen, is a portrait of Lord (Leonard) Wolfson, Chairman of the Wolfson Foundation 1972-2010.
Image © John Cairns

His lecture at Wolfson College, Oxford on 8 June 2015, was the first in a series of Wolfson Anniversary Lectures across the UK to mark the 60th anniversary of the Wolfson Foundation in 2015. Addressing an audience of senior leaders in the arts from across the country, including DCMS minister, Ed Vaizey, and Chair of the Arts Council, Sir Peter Bazalgette, MacGregor commented on the history of the Wolfson Foundation, noting its roots in Glasgow and placing it in the context of the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment. He praised the work of the Foundation in providing vital support to regional museums and galleries, and its commitment to working in partnership with government for the benefit of the public.

Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, Paul Ramsbottom, said "We are absolutely delighted that Neil MacGregor was willing to give his first major speech since announcing his retirement to mark the anniversary of the Wolfson Foundation. The Wolfson Foundation fully endorses his views on the importance of museums and galleries to cultural life across the whole of the UK. It is helpful to have this anniversary occasion to underline that, alongside our funding of science and medicine, we have a long-term commitment to heritage and the arts. The need for philanthropy has never been greater."

The full lecture is available to listen to by clicking here.