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By Tim Laurence on

Galleries that inspire

Inspirational spaces require investment. This simple truth is a challenging reality for the dedicated people working in cultural institutions across the country.

National museums such as the five that make up the Science Museum Group, which I’m privileged to Chair, are in the fortunate position of receiving some Government funding. It is critical to our responsibilities in caring for the national collections we hold on behalf of the nation. In our case, this funding accounts for nearly half of the cost of running five museums that inspire more than five million visitors in a typical year.  

Ensuring our museums prosper demands innovation from our teams in finding novel ways to generate revenue, while respecting the principle of free access to the collection. It also relies upon the generosity of visitors who choose to make a donation, pay to see a temporary exhibitions or interactive experience or take home a souvenir of their visit from our popular shops. Equally important is the generous support we receive from a coalition of philanthropists, charitable trusts and foundations, and businesses who share a passion for our mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.  

On taking up the post of Chair I was very impressed to discover that not a penny of the £95 million invested in transforming many of the Science Museum’s galleries in the past decade came from taxpayers. Many of the old galleries had been long overdue an overhaul, as scientific thinking and presentational techniques had moved on. The remarkable new galleries exploring medicine, communications technology, mathematics, the worlds of technicians and engineers and a stunning new gallery on the energy transition the world needs to see were only possible because of the backing of sponsors.  

As anyone who has visited will tell you, Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery is among the highlights of a day out at this rejuvenated Science Museum. Significant investment from Norwegian energy firm Equinor enabled the Science Museum team to create an extraordinary space with 50 unique exhibits, specially-commissioned artworks, explosive demonstrations and immersive experiences that has ignited the curiosity of more than 2 million visitors since opening.   

A young Wonderlab visitor is reflected inside the Infinity Boxes exhibit.

Wonderlab helps young people to think like a scientist. Some of our visitors will go on to become technicians and engineers, finding and implementing solutions to huge global issues such as climate change, which is a major priority for the Science Museum Group’s work and public engagement. We are extremely grateful for the support in funding Wonderlab of Equinor, a broad energy company whose activities now extend beyond its fossil fuel roots to include, among other things, working with partners to construct the world’s largest offshore wind farm at Dogger Bank, off England’s northeast coast. 

The whole energy industry needs to go further faster in the shift to renewable energy. As part of the Science Museum Group’s engagement with partners and potential partners in carbon intensive industries, our Trustees use the respected Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) to assess their progress on the transition to a low-carbon economy, supporting efforts to mitigate climate change. 

As a Board we do not agree with those who say we should rule out accepting sponsorship from all companies involved in fossil fuel extraction. After all, they have both the expertise and the wealth to solve the problems that fossil fuels have created. We believe in constructive engagement with companies that will be key in making the global economy less carbon intensive. Those with whom we partner must demonstrate that they are moving with sufficient urgency along the transition pathway to match our aspirations.   

Equinor’s sponsorship of the museum has drawn to a close at the end of their current contract term. Their contribution has been enormously important to us and has helped inspire hundreds of thousands of young potential engineers and scientists. The partnership concludes with our warm appreciation and with our ongoing encouragement to Equinor to continue to raise the bar in their efforts to put in place emissions reduction targets aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.