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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 27/10/2021

The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum was the national winner of the Best Visitor Attraction at the Scottish Thistle Awards in 2020, sponsored by ScotRail. In this week’s Winners' Wednesday feature, we hear from Billy Gartley, Head of Cultural Services at Leisure & Culture Dundee on what it meant to win the award. Judges praised the museum’s collaboration with the Beano Studio in 2018 as ‘creating a vibrant different element to an art gallery’ and improving engagement.  


Thistle Awards


The Art Gallery & Museum is home to Dundee's main collection spanning 400 million years and has been at the heart of art and culture in the city since 1867. Its eight open gallery spaces house exhibitions of art, history and the environment, giving a fascinating insight into Dundee.  

Throughout the galleries visitors can learn about early man in the area, admire stunning paintings and explore artefacts from industries past and present. In addition to the permanent displays, there is a changing programme of exhibitions and events throughout the year.  

Billy Gartley said winning the award marked the culmination of work across The McManus and the wider organisation to make the museum even more appealing to visitors.  

The visitor experience has always been important to us. That means giving visitors the warm welcome that we are renowned for as soon as they walk through the doors. We also pride ourselves on the high quality of our exhibitions and pay very close attention to every detail to make sure our shows are the best they can be. We were delighted that all our efforts were recognised when we won the award as 'Scotland’s Best Visitor Attraction'.

As you can imagine, along with other visitor attractions, the pandemic has proved to be a difficult time. Our primary concern was for our visitors and staff. That meant closing our doors for long periods while restrictions were in place. During that time, we put in place plans and preparations to welcome everyone back safely. However, we also developed our online offer to keep our audiences engaged. For example, we made our audio tours available online and put in place activities on social media, so that visitors could still learn about our exhibits and artefacts.

We also embarked on an ambitious remote learning and engagement project to help combat isolation heightened by the current COVID-19 pandemic. This 'Reconnect' initiative enabled us to provide valuable cultural engagements, resources and experiences for community groups with long term health conditions and families. This enhanced positive cultural participation and ensured that isolated and shielding participants still benefited from the rich experiences the museum has to offer.

We are lucky to have a great team at The McManus. Everyone from Visitor Assistants to Curators and from Senior Managers to Cleaners has played an important part in adapting our role and offer. We all know the vital role that cultural experiences can have. They bring happiness, stimulation, learning and enjoyment to visitors. These facets become even more important when times are difficult and so, with that in mind we have all enjoyed coming together to get everything ready to welcome everyone back to our galleries.

We are seeing lots of domestic tourism and local visitors who are rediscovering what is on their doorstep, so we would expect that trend to continue. Also, over the last few years, Dundee has become a 'must visit' cultural destination. We are very proud to have played our part in that alongside other attractions like V&A Dundee. We would hope for continued growth in all segments of the tourism market as a result. We also know that we have a role supporting the mental wellbeing of our local communities and will continue to engage with those who are most in need.

Billy Gartley, Head of Cultural Services at Leisure & Culture Dundee