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1996 Archives

The Millennium Renaissance
by Jim Kelsey

The United Kingdom is currently undergoing the greatest cultural renaissance since Queen Victoria's enlightened consort, Prince Albert, focused attention on education, the arts and sciences over 100 years ago.

The far-sighted German Prince who was Queen Victoria's husband and guiding hand for over 20 years, used the profits from his Great Exhibition of 1851 to buy sites in London's South Kensington for a concert hall, museums and colleges which are now world-renowned.

He united arts with industry; encouraged scientific research and development; introduced modern farming methods and as patron of a variety of academic establishments, initiated advances in education.

In introducing his pioneering ideas and the formidable etiquette and ethics of Victorian society, Prince Albert was celebrating Britain's democratic and industrial supremacy. Today, with the end of the century only four years away, the UK is busily preparing to mark its passing with hundreds of national and civic millennium events.

All are intended to be lasting monuments to the achievements and aspirations of the nation and have added momentum to a growing national interest in civic pride, environmental conservation and improving the quality of life.

All the projects are funded by the National Lottery, the European Community or private individuals. Launched in November 1994, the lottery has proved enormously popular with three quarters of the country's 58.4 million population who participate in the 8 million weekly draw.

About 28% of the money raised is distributed by the Millennium Commission, regional Arts Councils and the National Heritage Memorial Fund to five good causes - millennium events, sport, charities, the arts and heritage projects.

Lottery Grants
The remaining funds are divided between prizes (50%), tax (12%), retailers' commission (5%) operating costs and profit (5%). All lottery grants, which are announced monthly, are only a percentage of the overall cost of any project: the rest of the finance has to be raised by local authorities and public endeavour.

Over 1,000 million lottery funding has already gone to nearly 600 enterprises, including millennium ventures which range from community and environmental projects to the futuristic exhibition which is to be staged on the Greenwich peninsula site in London.

The millennium projects involve the laying of a 2,500 mile cycle route throughout the UK; the repair of the derelict wrought-iron West Wylam bridge - the first in the world to support a suspended railway track and the prototype for Sydney Harbour Bridge; a new lock on the River Stour - doubling the length of navigable river in scenic Constable country and a state-of-the-art international centre for environmental research and sustainable technology in Yorkshire.

Other schemes include the rejuvenation of Portsmouth Harbour; a new educational centre at London Zoo; 200 community woodlands throughout England and Wales; a new British Museum study centre; the buying of Handel's house in London where the Messiah was composed; the purchase of Keats's library; the refurbishment of Captain Cook's birthplace in Middlesborough and the restoration of Robert Adam's world famous Charlotte Square in Edinburgh.

Exhibition Complex
The projects list also includes the setting up of an Egypt Centre at Swansea's University of Wales; the creation of a botanic garden for Wales; salmon ladders on 18 weirs of the River Thames; the inauguration of playwright Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough; the opening of the inner court of the British Museum; a waterfront theatre and exhibition complex in Salford celebrating the life and achievement of Lancashire painter L. S. Lowry; the refurbishment of Scotland's Queens Park football ground and a new 75,000 seater stadium at Cardiff Arms Park in Wales.

The Government contributes 218 million annually to the UK's 2,000 museums and galleries housing the country's major national collections. Of the 1100 independent museums, 120 have opened in the past five years and are financed privately or by local authorities.

Some are eccentrically obscure such as Edinburgh's Fish and Chip Museum and Chichester's Rejectamenta founded by a former postwoman obsessed with collecting ~ everyone's mother threw away". Others, such as London's Jewish Museum and Canterbury's Roman Museum, and Bath's Museum of East Asian Art, are enormously popular.

Ceremonial Art
The Jewish Museum, recently relocated to London's Camden Town, is a collection of ceremonial art exhibited in a 19th century townhouse. The history of Jews in Britain is imaginatively illustrated with displays of menorah, ornate wine beakers, richly embroidered Torah covers and a 16th century Italian carved and painted synagogue ark, which was used for years as a wardrobe.

Canterbury's Roman Museum is on the site of a Roman town house whose impressive mosaic floors were uncovered by the wartime Blitz. A partial recreation of the Sophisticated private bathhouse, heated bathrooms cold plunge pool and steam room are re-created for the visitor by computer simulation.

Artist's impressions, based on archaeological evidence, depict Canterbury as it was in Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman times, while re-created rooms and shops strive for the same authenticity.

Bath now has an elegantly proportioned Georgian house for its new Museum of East Asian Art. On display are several hundred Oriental ceramics, jades and works of metal and wood which formed the collection of Brian McElney, a lawyer and collector of objets d'art who worked in Hong Kong for 35 years.

Private patronage is still very much in evidence in the UK. Pre-eminent in supporting the arts is Sainsbury's, the giant grocery chain, which built the Sainsbury Wing at London's National Gallery.

Lecture Theatre
Sir Timothy and Lady Sainsbury have just contributed over 5 million for the first stage of a redevelopment of Oxford University's acclaimed Ashmolean Museum. Beneath the museum's forecourt the basement has been cleared to provide an elegantly vaulted cafe~ and lecture theatre.

The Ashmolean's shop has been enlarged and ramp entrances provide access for the disabled. The second phase will include the redesign of the galleries which house the university'5 unique collections of arts and antiquities.

Prince Albert's great contribution to English art and culture is commemorated by the huge domed concert hall and the memorial which bears his name in London's Kensington district. In the millennium renaissance the general public have suggested the ideas to mark the passing of the century. Nevertheless they are pursuing Prince Albert's philanthropic principles in expanding cultural horizons, ever conscious - as he undoubtedly was - that the alliance of arts and industry is beneficial to all.

For more information contact:
Millennium Commission
2 Little Smith Street, London, United Kingdom, SW1P 3DH
Tel:+44 171 340 2030

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