Micrarium Selfies at the Grant Museum

January 18th 2017 was #MuseumSelfie day. And, what is museum selfie day? This is how the indefatigable Mar Dixon, the mastermind behind the day describes it : 

A day to share selfies either in museums or around museums.  These can be on the day or ones from previous visits.  This is a FUN DAY to encourage people to visit museums and participate a bit with art or collections.  

Following the fun on Twitter, I noticed one place pop up again and again. That place? The Micrarium at the Grant Museum. For a place full of all sorts of things,that I’d rather not think about most of the time, it is remarkably photogenic.

Slides from the Micrarium at the Grant Museum
Slides from the Micrarium at the Grant Museum

The thing is, the Micrarium doesn’t just pop up on #MuseumSelfie day. It’s a mainstay of profile pictures across all social media. There seems to be something very special about the Place for Tiny Things, so, I got in touch with the lovely folk at the Grant Museum, Jack Ashby the Museum Manager to be precise, to find out a bit more about the museum’s marvellous Micrarium.

Q:I understand the micrarium used to be a broom closet? What prompted the museum to turn it into a display area?

A:It was indeed a broom cupboard, which I think is a nice part of the story as that’s obviously not a very inspiring kind of space, so it’s been quite a transformation to turn it into the Micrarium. Our mission was to right two museological wrongs:

  1. Natural history museums have millions of microscope slides in their collections (we have over 20,000), but no-one had ever worked out a way of displaying them effectively. The Micrarium solves that solution, and the idea has since been copied in other museums, including by National Museum Cardiff, and will feature in an upcoming exhibition by the Manchester Museum and National Museums Liverpool. As a university museum, we really like it when ideas that we test here at the Grant Museum get taken up into the wider sector.
  2. Natural history museum galleries are deeply unrepresentative of nature. 95% of species are smaller than your thumb, but museum galleries are full of big animals – the Micarium is our place for tiny things to get a share of the limelight, and display a glimpse at the true diversity of life, which is mostly small.

Q: The mirrored ceiling is what makes it such a great photo op – what was the thinking behind that?

Looking up at the mirrored ceiling in the Micraium
Looking up at the mirrored ceiling in the Micraium

A: The mirrored ceiling is intended to amplify the scale of the collection and hint towards the fact that we could go on and on displaying tiny animals or microscope slides. Actually, until fairly late in the design of the project, it also had a mirrored floor. Fortunately we realised the implications for people wearing skirts before it was too late.

Q: The Grant’s office space is right in the museum – do you notice many visitors going in the Micrarium for a quick snap? Why do you think the Micrarium is so popular? Is there anything else that people gravitate towards?

A: Absolutely. My desk is actually directly about the Micrarium on the balcony. All day I hear people saying “Wow! Come and look at this!” It’s surely because it’s such a beautiful, colourful light space. Very different to the rest of the museum, but at the same time very much in keeping with the atmosphere.

Q:*Loads* of people (OK, mostly the museum folk that I follow on Twitter) have a Micrarium selfie as a profile picture – do you think this has had an impact on the museum at all?

I don’t know about that. People grow fond of the Grant Museum, which is something that makes us very happy.

Q: Did you share a Micrarium selfie on the day?

I didn’t, my only #museumselfie day effort was with the skin of a monkey’s head which had been filled with plaster.

However all of the Trustees of the Natural Sciences Collections Association (myself included) did cram in there last week for a quick selfie. We are the professional body for the people who work with natural sciences collections.

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