Twilight at the Museums

Beatrice Priest 25 February 2013

The spectacular Twilight at the Museums event, in which museums across Cambridge extend their opening hours until 7.30pm, took place last Wednesday. This year, the annual event took on a different tone as visitors were free to explore not only the museum collections inside by torch light (and often by bicycle light) but also to enjoy the fantastic light shows and displays outside the museums. The university museums were also transformed by the enthusiasm and laughter of children on their half-term break who excitedly discovered the collections in the dark with their parents. Although it was aimed at families, this free event was enjoyed by all.

The Museum of Classical Archaeology was fabulously lit with all of its colossal figures in a half light. The experience was made particularly entertaining by the children focusing their light beams on the private parts of the Greek and Roman heroes. The Scott Polar museum handed out glow sticks and bands to its intrepid visitors before ushering them into a short film of the northern lights. The waving of glow sticks in the audience mirrored the spectacular fluorescent lights of the arctic north. Then the museum itself was illuminated by torchlight evoking the sensation of intrigue and wonder felt by the original Antarctic explorers.

The glasshouses of the nearby Botanic Gardens were lit from the inside for a special plant ‘story’ safari, whilst pre-historic skeletons were bathed in fluorescent light and the sounds of nocturnal creatures could be heard in the Museum of Zoology. Over the road at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, entertainers – some on stilts – performed amazing light shows which were complemented by the projections on a huge inflated ball.

The most spectacular light show, however, was at the Fitzwilliam Museum where beautiful images and animated sequences were projected onto one of the facades of the monumental building. These projections celebrated many of the objects and artworks in the university’s collections. Enlarged butterflies fluttered across the building, the skull of a tyrannosaurus rex chomped some ancient sea mammals, whilst quilled mathematical equations were then replaced with the vivid impressionist brushstrokes. The enchanting atmosphere created by the moving light projections was enhanced by the falling snow.

This magical evening felt like a continental museum night rather than one organised in the UK. The only disappointment was that the museums were not open longer for adults to explore the collections past children’s bedtime.

Beatrice Priest