Why the Future for Our History Is Looking So Good; the Arrival of the Staffordshire Hoard Was the Icing on the Cake in a Bumper Visitor Year for Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Vicky Farncombe Reports
Byline: Vicky Farncombe
The beeps from her computer signalling an incoming email come so thick they sound like a life support machine and it's taken three weeks to find a 30-minute interview slot in her jampacked diary.
Rita McLean is a busy woman. It would be easy to blame Terry Herbert, the metal detector enthusiast, who discovered a crock of gold in Staffordshire that would bring thousands of visitors, journalists and academics beat-t ing a path to her door.
But even before that, the head of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (BM&AG) had quite a lot to contend with, thanks to a mission she set herself three years ago.
"I wanted to raise the profile of the services," she said. "It's about time they got the recognition it deserves. I'm passionate about the museum and art gallery. I always have been. The breadth of collections here are very exciting. I like the way that it cuts across a broad range of areas. We have got history, archaeology, art, then we have Aston Hall, Soho House.
Even being modest, Rita admits she may have achieved her goal. Official visitor figures for 2009-10 will not be available until April but staff are hopeful it will hit the magical million mark.
This is in no small part due to the ex-x citing exhibitions on show this year.
There's been glamour in the shape of the Supremes collection featuring the sequined costumes worn by the Motown trio and charting the history of the Civil Rights movement.
There's been local interest in the 200th anniversary of Matthew Boulton which attracted record numbers to the industrialist's 18th century home Soho House. Finally, just as the staff at the museum were patting themselves on the back for a good year's work, along came the Staf-f fordshire hoard.
"The Staffordshire hoard was incredible," said Rita. "It was fantastic to see the crowds snaking round the building and right through the doors. It was really lovely to see that response and to see the interest people had.
"It was the quality of the craftmanship and the excitement of the discovery. Something that had been in the ground for centuries. People were interested to see it in the state it had been found, still with the earth on it.
"But it's not just the Staffordshire hoard, the Matthew Boulton exhibition has been a real success too. We had nearly 200,000 come and see it and they gave us great feedback on the collections."
While recent exhibitions have drawn in younger, more diverse crowds, Rita has been working hard behind the scenes to ensure Birmingham's cultural offerings stay firmly in the public eye.
She is one of the people involved in Birmingham's bid to become the first UK city of culture in 2013, she helped secure an arrangement to display a few of the archives' key pieces in the most important corridor in Britain - 10 Downing Street - and last but not least, the museum has just been awarded a pounds 4. …