While there has long been talk of museums needing to adapt to the modern age, it seems that the pressure on them to be seen in a new light has been interpreted quite literally.
The Museums at Night festival, now in its seventh year, is just one example of the phenomenon that indulges our childhood fantasy to go exploring in a place where “do not touch” and “off limits” are the default messages.
Similar to Germany’s Lange Nacht der Museen and the Nuit Blanche in France, the biannual festival sees cultural institutions across the UK throwing open their doors after hours for a wide variety of performances, exclusive guided tours, special events and even sleepovers.
Lauren Laverne, radio DJ by day and ambassador for the festival by night, explains how the cultural gems right on our doorstep are suddenly reanimated “when the lights go down and our imaginations are in charge”.
A sure-fire way of attracting new patrons, the night-time museum safari is another example of the way museums are transforming themselves into buzzing new social hubs. In fact, the nocturnal visitor is steadily becoming spoilt for choice. The Science Museum’s Lates is just one example of the way in which museums are now regularly playing host to evening lecture series and social events.
As temples of art and culture, museums are increasingly being seen as attractive venues for hosting fashion shows, balls and benefits. But it seems that adding in the taboo thrill of the after-dark experience is the secret ingredient. The Afterdark project, for example, which took over the Tate Britain in August 2014, describes itself simply as “nocturnal robots roaming forbidden spaces at night”. Kraftwerk certainly capitalised on this, performing in the Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall in 2013.
Under this veneer of sophistication and high culture, are we still just hoping that museums really do come to life at night – or do we have to remain content with Ben Stiller and his miniature Owen Wilson cowboy?