Birmingham Museums Trust appoints first director

By on 15/02/2012 in Culture, News

Professor Ann Sumner has been named as the first Director of Birmingham Museums trust.

Currently Director at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham, Professor Sumner will take charge of the new body responsible for running Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery and Thinktank.

She will start work with the new Trust from its inception in April and will assume her new role on a full-time basis from 1 May.

Professor Sumner said: “I am enormously honoured to have been appointed to this exciting new role. The high quality and diversity of the collections which will be managed by the new Trust are outstanding, and hugely popular with the people of Birmingham, the West Midlands and beyond.

“I have had a wonderful four and a half years working at the Barber Institute at the University of Birmingham and I am now relishing an exciting new opportunity.

“This is a key moment for the city and the wider region, and I look forward to working with the Trust team and building on their recent successes.”

Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, Cllr Martin Mullaney, said: “Professor Sumner has a wealth of experience and her appointment comes at a very exciting time for museum services in Birmingham.

“We’re combining the Birmingham City Council Museums and Thinktank Trust into a new single trust that, in visitor numbers, will instantly become one of the world's top 40 museums, attracting more than one million visitors a year.”

Chairman of Thinktank Len Clark, who has been overseeing the merger, added: “I am delighted Ann Sumner has accepted the position of Director and am confident that Ann will make a significant contribution to the future success of Birmingham Museums Trust. She has a wealth of experience and emerged as the ideal candidate to steer the new trust.”

Professor Michael Sheppard, Provost and Vice-Principal of the University of Birmingham, said “The arts are an essential part of life at the University, and are an intrinsic element of our city.  We are delighted that Ann’s experience, leading the acclaimed Barber Institute at the University, will now enhance the cultural landscape of the city.  We wish her and the new Birmingham Museums Trust every success.”

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, welcomed the news of Professor Sumner's appointment. He said: “Ann Sumner has demonstrated great flair and creativity as Director of the Barber Institute and is a fine choice as Director of the new Birmingham Museums Trust.  She will follow on from the excellent achievements of Rita McLean in directing the Birmingham collections in recent years.”

Professor Sumner studied History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, University of London, and undertook her PhD in History at Newnham College, University of Cambridge.

She began her career at the National Portrait Gallery, London and has held curatorial positions at the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Harewood House Trust, and the Holburne Museum, Bath. Prior to her appointment to the Barber Institute in October 2007, she had been Head of Fine Art at  Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales, for seven years.

Professor Sumner's specialist areas of interest are 17th-century British portraits and miniatures, French Impressionist painting, including the art of Alfred Sisley, Pre-Raphaelite artists, especially John Brett, and the art of Wales, being an expert on the paintings of Thomas Jones, pupil of Richard Wilson. She also has experience in country house management  and has a long term interest in the social history of lawn tennis.

Professor Sumner is on the steering group for the National Gallery's Advisory Committee for Research on European Paintings, is a member of the curatorial and academic committee of Ironbridge Gorge Museums, sits on the Museum and Gallery Committee for Aberystwyth School of Art, is on the Committee for the Leverhulme Prize for Art History and is also on the steering group for the proposed lawn tennis museum in Edgbaston.


For more information contact Geoff Coleman on 0121 303 3501

Additional quotes

Rita McLean, Head of Museums & Heritage Services, has been doing an exemplary job as Interim CEO, developing the business plan for the new company and liaising with colleagues at Thinktank.  She has also delivered one of the major Museum grants from the new Renaissance programme, creating a compelling vision for the future.  Rita indicated at an early stage in the recruitment process that she did not wish to be considered for this important role. Having led the service for seven years and worked for BMAG for many years prior to this, she felt it was the right time for her to move on to new endeavours.

She said: “Ann’s arrival comes at an exciting time for museums in Birmingham and I wish her every success in this new role. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Birmingham Museums and will be on hand to assist Ann as she settles into her new role.”

Professor Michael Whitby, Head of the University's College of Arts and Law: “On behalf of the University of Birmingham, I would like to congratulate Ann on her challenging new appointment and to thank her for all she has done for the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the University, especially in terms of raising the profile of the Barber, promoting visitor numbers and through distinctive exhibitions such as the recent, highly successful Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art.”

Hugh Carslake, Chairman of the Henry Barber Trust, which is responsible for the Barber collection, said: “On behalf of the Henry Barber Trust, I congratulate Ann on her appointment to Birmingham Museums Trust at an absolutely pivotal time for museums and heritage in the city. Ann has led the Barber Institute with professionalism and verve, stepping up the exhibitions programme, increasing visitor numbers and making some very astute and exciting acquisitions. We wish Ann every success in her new role.”

Birmingham Museums Trust

The Trust incorporates Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Thinktank, Aston Hall, Soho House, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Blakesley Hall, Weoley Castle and Sarehole Mill.

Benefits of trust status include:

  • Improved visitor offer and a more effective marketing approach of museum activities.
  • Ability to operate more flexibly in response to the needs of the market.
  • The development of even richer and more diverse educational programmes which draw on all aspects of the Trust's unique, world class collections and relate to all subject areas across the entire spectrum of the national curriculum, from science to art educational services.  Benefiting a greater number of children and young people across the city, region and beyond.
  • Even greater promotion of the city's cultural offer and world-class collections through national and international touring exhibitions, and collection loans to some of the world's leading cultural institutions.
  • The creation of one of the UK's largest museums services, able to work at a local, regional, national and international level and in partnership with some of the world's leading museums and galleries.
  • Over the next two years the Trust will see the completion of a number of major gallery developments and gallery/building refurbishments, with innovative and accessible new displays and significantly enhanced visitor facilities. These programmes will support both an increase and expansion of the Trust's audiences - especially visits by children, young people and families.

Planned developments include:

  • Thinktank Science Garden
    Thinktank's Science Garden is a £2.8m, 2,750 m2, high profile, outdoor and interactive exhibition exploring the science and technology principles that underpin Birmingham's heritage. Designed to inspire the scientists of tomorrow, it will enable Thinktank to become an all-weather destination. The garden is supported by Biffaward, Millennium Point Trust, and a range of other charitable trusts and foundations including an award of £500,000 from the Wellcome Trust.  Scheduled to open June 2012.
  • Birmingham History Galleries
    Birmingham - a City in the Making is a fully funded £8.6m redevelopment of over 1000m2 of gallery space at BMAG. Drawing upon the city's nationally important Birmingham history collections these new galleries will explore the people and events that have shaped our city.
  • We Made It - Nuts, Bolts, Gadgets and Gizmos
    We Made It at Thinktank is a fully funded £2.2m 600m2 new interactive science exhibition exploring earth and materials sciences, manufacturing, products and waste minimisation through fun and intriguing exhibits.  This hands-on science gallery will show how and why Birmingham became known as 'the workshop of the world', and how innovation continues to be part of the cultural identity of the region.
  • Staffordshire Hoard Gallery
    The creation of a permanent gallery at BMAG to showcase the world renowned Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered. Costing £1m, BMAG is currently developing a £750k stage II HLF bid to enable this 230m². gallery to open in summer 2014.
  • Soho House Refurbishment
    A refurbishment of the Visitor Centre and exhibition space at Soho House due to be completed by summer 2012.
  • Sarehole Mill
    Fundraising is under way to undertake repairs to the fabric of Sarehole Mill's building and its environs and to dredge the millpond which has become badly silted up over the years. The mill's ability to function as a working museum is currently under threat. If fundraising is successful then the project is expected to be completed by 2014.

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