Free entry for Sidmouth Museum in 2009

THERE are major changes afoot at Sidmouth Museum for the 2009 season, including free entry to visitors.

THERE are major changes afoot at Sidmouth Museum for the 2009 season, including free entry to visitors.

Ishbel Ramsay, arts development officer for East Devon District Council, has been working with Open Doors and gained funding through David Tucker, county museum officer for Dorset, to operate programmes with Sidmouth and Bridport museums, which are sited along the Jurassic Coast.

Both are small community-run museums and the project will give them the opportunity to open for the season without charging, with any losses guaranteed.

"Hopefully it will attract better visitor figures and hopefully visitors will make donations and buy gifts from the shop," said Ishbel. "My job is co-ordinate on behalf of the museum."

To this end she has designed a series of eye-catching posters, advertising Sidmouth Museum's new opening hours - from 1pm to 4pm Mondays and 10am to 4pm Tuesdays to Saturdays. Previously the museum closed at lunchtimes.

New A-board signs have been produced to attract people, including residents, inside the museum and the heavy front desk has been cut down and painted to make it more inviting.

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The new posters use items found in the museum. One depicts two miniature dolls around a table full of bric-a-brac, which can be found upstairs in the main gallery in a case with old dolls.

Others use pictures designed by Lawson Woods who once lived in Sidmouth. His well-know caricatures appeared in titles such as the Illustrated London News and Punch Magazine.

"Sidmouth had 2,500 visitors last year," said Ishbel, a freelance arts consultant, who is also printing fliers to leave on shop counters and designing posters for the popular museum walks. "It would be lovely to double it."

The museum's band of volunteers are currently working hard to put finishing touches to new exhibits before the grand re-opening on Saturday, April 4, at 10am, with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Reverend Handel Bennett, chairman of Sid Vale Association at 2pm.

This year's theme for three exhibits is Natural Beauty. One celebrates Darwin's bi-centenary, another shows East Devon's AONB, while Sidmouth Garden Club, which has its 60th anniversary this year, will have memorabilia on display.

Publicity officer Hilary Briers said: "Apart from the people doing painting and general repair jobs, organising the Young People's area, setting up the shop, putting together the exhibitions, there are the administrative people, the ones who organise the stewards rota, carry out the stewards training and of course, the stewards themselves who "give of their valuable time."

Volunteer steward Jane has been getting the children's area into shape. This fun space, built up by Ann Walsh, is used for four special activity day s throughout the season, which have proved a popular attraction.

Tony Walsh, buildings officer, has been revamping the shop area, painting it and reorganising the space to make it lighter and suitable for the many items that will be stocked and sold by volunteer Christine Bull, who says Hilary is doing a "stirling job" since taking over last year.

Tuesday and Thursday strolls will begin at 11am instead of 10.15am, to give people time for a coffee first.

Brian Websdale's Jurassic Coast "wanders along the Esplanade talking about the Jurassic Coast" will begin at 2pm on Wednesdays.

"We are very keen to encourage more people to go on walks and not just visitors . How many people know the story?" said Hilary.

"This initiative by Renaissance in the Regions has given us a great opportunity to open for free. The whole aim is we, with curator Dr Bob Symes, are trying to generate interest and having got free admission we want to try to make it work."

Handel will officiate at the Easter launch on behalf of Dr Symes who will be away and unveil a recently acquired Hasler painting.

Special guest will be artist Judy Hempsted who will unveil her painting of Sidmouth looking west along the cliffs, which the museum commissioned.