Stan the T rex will be next to a new display when Manchester Museum reopens in February after a refit.
A museum with a dizzying, encyclopaedic collection that spans Egyptian mummies, dinosaur skeletons and live Costa Rican frogs is to reopen next year after a £15m revamp – with a promise to be more inclusive and imaginative.
Manchester Museum has about 4.5m objects from around the world, a mix of exhibits from natural sciences and human cultures.
The collection includes 4,000 archery objects, tens of thousands of coins, a million preserved animals and, unusually, an internationally important vivarium.
It means that Manchester is the only place outside Panama where variable harlequin toads can be found.
“They had a really good lockdown,” said the museum director, Esme Ward.
The museum has been closed since October last year for a redevelopment that will give it a new entrance, more exhibition space and, Ward says, the opportunity to tell stories differently.
“Our mission has not changed, it remains to develop a better understanding between different cultures and build a more sustainable world.
What has changed is the way that we’re choosing to do it.
Museums across the UK are looking to revamp their collections and tell new stories, with a focus on South Asian history and culture.
“Museums have told the same story for the past 150 years, so we’re really interested in it being time to tell new stories.”
The revamp includes a new South Asian gallery, a partnership with the British Museum.
Back in 2015, the then chancellor, George Osborne, pledged £5m to the gallery as part of the “northern powerhouse” agreement.
It was originally going to be a chronological, professionally curated space, but has instead been co-curated by 31 people from Manchester’s south Asian diaspora communities.
“Just ordinary folk, not museum folk,” said Ward.
“It is co-curation on an epic scale … it is their lived experience and the collections coming together and we hope it will be like alchemy.
You will essentially have a sense of diaspora and experience and contribution that you won’t find in any other museum.”
Ward said the museum was making a commitment to inclusion and imagination.
“We are an institution born of empire.
“Museums Grapple With the Complexity of Repatriation”
How are we grappling with the complexity of that? What does an ethics of care look like for an institution like ours?”
One of the liveliest debates for museums is repatriation, with some arguing that there are thousands of objects in British collections that were taken in dubious circumstances or violent raids.
In 2019, Manchester voluntarily returned 43 ceremonial objects in its collection to Indigenous Australian communities.
Ward said she did not know if more objects in the collection would follow.
“We’ve had no direct claims since then, even though many people told me the floodgates would open.”
The museum, part of the University of Manchester, will reopen on 18 February.
The revamp also includes a new Chinese culture gallery, a new dinosaur display, a “belonging” gallery and a new exhibition hall.
Its opening exhibition will be Golden Mummies of Egypt – making its UK debut after a tour of the US and China – which includes eight mummies and 100 objects from Manchester’s bountiful collections.
Ward said it would also still be the museum loved by generations of families.
For example, the much-loved Stan the T rex will be next to a new display about how to view the world like a palaeontologist.
“I take very seriously people’s love of tradition and I hope people feel that we’ve not messed with the things they love,” said Ward.