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Tony Hill, Director Of Mosi, Steps Down

News and Comment: museum parts ways with boss

Published on January 6th 2012.

Tony Hill, Director Of Mosi, Steps Down

HERE's big news from Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry. The words below are the press release. The comments in the yellow box beneath are Confidential's.

Tony Hill is to step down as Director of MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester) following the announcement of the merger between NMSI (National Museum of Science & Industry) and MOSI. 

Tony has been with MOSI since 2005.

Tony Hill
During his time as Director he has overseen many significant commercial and brand developments at MOSI including the successful £9 million redevelopment of Great Western Warehouse which includes the new Experiment! and Revolution Manchester galleries.

Since the re-opening MOSI has enjoyed record visitor numbers, greatly improved revenue generation and won numerous awards culminating in the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year for 2011. 

He said: “I have loved working at MOSI with the fantastic team and ensuring that visitors enjoy their visit to one of Manchester’s greatest cultural spaces. However, I now believe the time is right to move on.  I look forward to witnessing the Museum’s continued success in the future within the NMSI family of Museums.” 

The merger between NMSI and MOSI was announced in November 2011 and will create one of the most important museum groups in the world, reaching over five million visitors annually.  

Ian Blatchford, Director of NMSI said: “I thoroughly value the contribution which Tony has made to the success of MOSI over the past six years and wish him great success in the future. We look forward to working with our colleagues at MOSI to celebrate Manchester’s great contribution to the world of science and industry and communicate this to a wider and more diverse audience.”

Editorial Comment

There have been problems of under-investment at MOSI for many years, even decades - way before Tony Hill and his team's sterling efforts to turn things around.

Despite the brave words in the official press release above, from being the automatic first choice visit museum and gallery of central Greater Manchester it's now behind almost all the other key museums and galleries, in terms of presentability and attraction - away from the specialist transport and steam audience.

Manchester Museum, the Imperial War Museum North, John Rylands Library, Manchester Art Gallery and The Whitworth Art Gallery all seem better for that key tourist visit than MOSI. And this year we have the National Football Museum opening. If it were bigger the People's History Museum would give it a run for its money too.

Tour guides in Manchester now recommend the above places before MOSI - the latter looks tatty and tired in too many areas - and it's only the sheer power of the exhibits and the buildings that's keeping the visitor numbers up. At Confidential we've had MOSI guest comments that don't make for good reading.

The sheer scale of the place and the amounts needed to keep the multi-acre site running at an acceptable 21st century level means that even in the specialist areas the museum with the Grade 1 listed oldest passenger rail station in the world falls short.

The signage in some of the galleries is lamentable, worthy of an exhibition in some Museum of Museums in a gallery themed to the eighties and nineties. In many areas it just looks dusty and unkempt, despite all the hard work of the stretched staff. Even in newish galleries such as Manchester Science the holograms seldom work. 

The merger with the National Museum of Science & Industry offers hope for a layer of re-investment that will tackle the basics before looking to new ideas. The new Revolution Manchester gallery shows the level of display the rest of the site should aim for.  

Make the museum and its astonishing exhibits coherent and meaningful, do the simple communication things well, celebrate what's already here and let the rest follow.

With one addition.

The City should put big pressure on ITV to leave MOSI the original and adjacent Coronation Street set when it moves to MediaCityUK. This can be the centre-piece of a new science and media exhibition with instant popular appeal.

Manchester has always been a city of high science but also one of popular culture. 

With investment in the right places it shouldn't take much given MOSI's lovely buildings and incredible artefacts to get it back on top again.

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36 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJanuary 6th 2012.

Agree with all this. I wouldn't be too bothered about losing the Coronation Street set though. Too much emphasis is placed on this one programme to the detriment the rest of the city's considerable output in the media and popular culture. The most important buildings are really the post-war Granada studio and office buildings and it is these that should be retained at all cost. They're genuinely iconic structures and should be listed in my view.

I hope the encircling developers, planning consultants, property agents, ITV accountants and town hall officials understand the cultural, social and heritage value of these buildings rather than just monetary value of a cleared site.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Grand NanaJanuary 6th 2012.

I don't doubt their architectural value, but who on earth would visit Manchester to look at an old office building and empty studios? Talk about missing the point.

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2012.

No, I mean you could keep part of the Corrie set as a visitor attraction but as just one part of a new media wing for MOSI. It could be accommodated in part of the preserved 1950s office block or studio building (give the ghost of Pat Phoenix something to wander around), or even the bonded warehouse. The remainder of the space should be refurbished and converted into office or hotel use and the rest of the campus cleared to accommodate whatever bollocks the developers wish to build (a few white lines and a pay-and-display unit most likely).

Whatever happens, the original studio and office buildings should not be sacrificed for a few bits of flimsy ply board that constitutes the existing Corrie set.

Incidentally, there is a suggestion that the Granada building was so designed to be easily converted into a hotel if the TV franchise didn't work out.

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2012.

Its amazing how many people still come and ask where the Granada Studio Tours is,......just a thought

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 7th 2012.

I get requests every week as a tour guide to show Coronation Street off - it's not my field so I don't do it. A science and media exhibition with the original 'Street' as the centre-piece would probably throw another 100,000 people the museum's way. Manchester also has a proud history in broadcasting that could be told in the same place. It would a huge bonus for the city in dragging in visitor numbers - of course this all depends on whether ITV are intending the new 'Street' at MediaCityUk to be open to the public. But Grand Nana's got this completely wrong.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
SibbyJanuary 7th 2012.

And every day there are always people in the Visitor Info Centre who ask about visiting Coronation Street.

Grand NanaJanuary 7th 2012.

How do you mean, JS? All I meant was that the buildings in themselves aren't much of an attraction.

SusanJanuary 9th 2012.

The central point is MOSI is a fantastic asset for the city and houses significant collections. Tony Hill and his team have done a great job with a site full of history and challenges. The recent redevelopment just shows what can be done if resources are forthcoming. Let's support the museum and find ways to make the plans it has developed under Tony's leadership come to fruition.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 9th 2012.

no bins?

Andrew SpinozaJanuary 9th 2012.

I agree with the thrust of JS' comments but it's ironic that in his enthusiasm to make his point that it needs greater investment, he has been too damning of MOSI. It's a huge estate of land and buildings with vast riches of content and it's easier said than done to present it all 'coherently' on a budget. So let's not overstate its issues - it's still a fascinating and fun visit for families and tourists. Anyone with any commercial nous would agree with JS that the income potential of the Corrie set makes getting that in a priority - if ITV will play ball: it's their intellectual property and they ain't just going to gift it away, are they?

Andrew SpinozaJanuary 9th 2012.


Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 9th 2012.

Actually Andrew MOSI has been left behind Merseyside Maritime Museum, behind other Manchester museums and galleries.

What we have in MOSI is an unparalleled sequence of buildings and artefacts that are always worth looking at and visiting but are not presently well arranged, or neat enough to make a tour guide faced with the hard reality of tourists standing in front of them - me - want to say go there rather than John Rylands Library where you'll be looking at the earliest fragment of the New Testament Bible and more.

And what is happening to the Manchester History section of MOSI when we compare it to the new museum of Liverpool life? Are we really not proud of that fact of how far more important our political contribution to national life is than any other UK city?

Big, big serious issues, which we should air in public.

Daniel BarkerJanuary 9th 2012.

I loved the GS Tour, went probably a dozen times with school, cubs etc. Now 32, i'd go again if it were open. I always thought it was a top attraction and allowed you to see how the magic of tv worked (albeit I was 9 and the 'magic' back then went as far as a mark-up artist and a blue screen at best.

Alternatively, i'd vote for redeveloping the street into complete houses, and the pub, so that you could actually live on Coronation Street - in fact, it could then be used to film a cross between TOWIE (working title being TOWIC - 'C' = Corrie) and Educating Essex.

Definately drop the office block but keep the Houses of Parliament and Baker St sets just for fun - once went to a New Years Eve party there and they used the Baker St set for a foam party.... surreal.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 9th 2012.

Daniel you're my hero. People want content PLUS entertainment.

Lizzie GarveyJanuary 9th 2012.

I agree - I ruddy loved the Granada studios tour when I was younger! Isn't the entrance all still there behind the gates? There is no way we can just bulldoze Corrie ! travel anywhere in the world and tell folk you are from Manchester and you get one of two responses "OOh Manchester United" Or "Ohh I love Corrie" , I know we have so much more to offer but these things pull people in !

SmittyJanuary 10th 2012.

I love the idea of a foam party on the Baker St set! That HAD to be the 1990s!

Chris KellyJanuary 9th 2012.

I've just returned from a New Year Chicago, while there I visited the John Hancock Centre Observatory ($15), the Adler Plentarium ($28) and the Field Museum ($29). Each of these admission charges were plus tax. The Museum was very tired and despite having "special" exhibits it was not value for money as they were more of the "glass case and descriptive plate" exhibitions that have been there since the 1920.

The Planetarium was even more run down due to many of it's exhibits being interactive (read broken). It's big new thing was an animated journey through the universe written by Nick Sagen (son of Carl) billed as "a science fiction adventure, based on real science", unfortunately it included faster than light travel (real science?) and repeatedly mentioned the laws of "nature" as opposed to physics (I suspect in an effort to appease the god botherers of middle America because "nature" is god given).

The JHC Observatory made the best of having nothing more than an impressive view by suppling every visitor with an iPod Touch which by typing in an appropriate number (found stuck to each window) provided a voice over (by Chicago native David Schwimmer), images (to help you orientate yourself), interviews with prominent people (to add context) and links to further reading (for the interested). Kids got the same device but their own set of numbers (and thereby voice overs).

The lessons? Manchester is not the only city which has a museum in need for refreshing. Using modern multimedia tech to bring life to the existing exhibits can work wonders.

I would love to see a media element to MOSI, and incorporating some of the historic Granada Studios site would be an obvious way to go, however if the existing scale of the site is too great to be maintained to a high standard it seems foolish to extend it further.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Andy GoughJanuary 9th 2012.

I'd look up the root of the word "physics" if I were you

suzyblewJanuary 12th 2012.

I agree about the museums in Chicago having been several times over the last few years, however their science museum got record numbers thanks to seperate special presentations of the Harry Potter exhibition and a complete recreation of the Millenium Falcon. Both were sell outs.

the Whalley RangerJanuary 9th 2012.

When will they stop making museums just for kids? MOSI is a prime bad example of that.

Yes, it is full of school kids but that's it. Time to return to the USP of the museum and sell it to everyone, not just kids.

Who knows what MOSI stands for? No one. Bad marketing so far...

2 Responses: Reply To This...
JoanJanuary 10th 2012.

Museum of Science & Industry

the Whalley RangerJanuary 10th 2012.

Joan, you are a star! Who would have thunk it...

peeJanuary 9th 2012.

Had friends over from Ireland last week and they spent 4hrs at MOSI, loved it and no mention of "tired" displays. Context being they have nothing like it there, but nonetheless it was the most attractive day out venues offered) for the family in Manchester that day.

AnnieJanuary 9th 2012.

I live opposite this museum and am dragged about the 'trains trains trains mummy' and 'planes planes planes mummy' once a week.

My son loves it. At 3 he knows what a jet engine is and a kamikaze plane - though he's not fully aware of what that means, on purpose.

We have to stop at every single thing and he insists on having it explained to him, which teaches me things as well as him. Given all this I think I know a bit about the museum and how it has changed over the past few years.

I don't think on one hand we can give the praise to Tony Hill and his team, given in the yellow box, and then on the other hand say how far behind the museum is slipping. It's not all about funding, it really isn't.

The new lifts and cafe didn't have to be the most expensive to build available. Over £10m spent on it when the actual exhibitions were falling behind.

Sometimes it feels as though part of the museum is run for the enthusiasts who help out. I know that sounds very harsh and visiting regularly I tend to find them sweet but the concentration must always be on the visitor. There seems to be a very enthusiastic 'don't touch' policy surrounding so many exhibits. Cars, planes, trains, engines. What's wrong with people touching a plane, it's hardly going back into service.

There isn't one train you can go on and have a good look or one plane or helicopter you can do similar with. I'm in my 30s and a couple of the trains are what I remember going to Blackpool on, it would be lovely to go and have a proper look. People older than me remember more and it gives something to every age group if you can actually go on and have a look at the thing.

A lot of signs and explanations are too brief or non existent - and this isn't down to a lack of funding. Outside sponsorship hasn't been secured at anywhere near the right levels and of course these things are difficult but I don't doubt Tony Hill was paid as a capable man. The brand has decreased rather than increased.

This current team has taken the museum backwards rather than forward and for that reason it's probably best for MOSI that a new leader takes them forward.

I sincerely wish them all the best.

Bill Sullivan shared this on Facebook on January 10th 2012.
Fiona MoateJanuary 10th 2012.

I agree with the poster that many museums & especially Manchester art Gallery have an emphasis for Children. It's difficult to go & study the art in a gallery or exhibits in a museum when it's full of school groups & screaming kids.
The signage is dumbed down & patronising too. Perhaps to kinds of sign & an over 15 day once a month. I am sure there are lots of older people & academics who would jump at this chance.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 10th 2012.

If you can't stand listening to people enjoying themselves in a PUBLIC building, why not go at one of the less busy times when there are fewer school groups in?

It's the city, duffusJanuary 10th 2012.

The kids theme in Manchester museums bores the hell out of me. The V&A don't do it, why does Manchester?

Usually M copies L, why not here?

Audrey SmithJanuary 10th 2012.

Yesterday I posted a rant about the poor service we received at Albert's in Didsbury and it has disappeared...!!!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 10th 2012.

It shouldn't have. How weird. Please post again and I'll investigate.

WoksmugglerJanuary 10th 2012.

Still there - have a look at the rants following the story "The top 25 most read food and drink stories of 2011"

Simon TurnerJanuary 10th 2012.

The refurb on MOSI hasn't worked. Millions were spent and mostly wasted. There are conference rooms / banqueting suites on the first floor which are horrible.

tJanuary 10th 2012.

I wish they'd reopen Granada Studio Tours - it's a good 20 years since I've been but I remember it as being loads of fun, surely there'd be space to combine that and MOSI into some kind of super museum of wonder?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Julie TurnerJanuary 11th 2012.

I agree with this. The site of coronation st would be a crowd puller as it was when the Granada tours were on. It was only closed when filming at coronation street increased. Also 'coronation street' is on my plans as a real street when we bought our apartment near to Granada tv

AnonymousJanuary 11th 2012.

You would be naive to belive the fate of the Corrie set and the office building hadn't allready been sealed, my guess is Peel will have a hand in things ,not necessarily a bad thing.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 12th 2012.

Oh no no, not Peel, they are Salford folk, successfully regenerating places everyone else poo poo'd. No this side of the water it has to be ASK or ARGENT, maybe Allied London, but almost certainly designed by Roger Stephenson or Ian Simpson. Them's just the rules...

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