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Tuesday 10th November 2020

The ceiling of the Founder's Entrance
The ceiling of the Founder's Entrance

Luke Syson, the Director of Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum, announces today the organisation is entering a period of transformational change.

Mr Syson and the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum have appointed two acclaimed museum professionals, Karen Livingstone and Neal Spencer, who will join the Fitzwilliam in February 2021 as new Deputy Directors to be part of the team to lead the Museum through this period of change, rejuvenating the Fitzwilliam, not just as the University’s leading visitor attraction, but as an international resource. During the pandemic the Fitzwilliam built and launched a new Beta website to public consultation, alongside producing a new series of ‘art in lockdown’ podcasts, as it seeks to broaden and modernise its digital offer.

As the principal museum of Cambridge University and the largest cultural venue in East Anglia, the Fitzwilliam is a crucial bridge between Cambridge University, and the rest of the world, with an international reputation for extraordinary research, world-class exhibitions, sector-leading public engagement and over half a million artefacts and works of art spanning centuries and cultures.

Karen Livingstone will be the Fitzwilliam’s first Deputy Director for Masterplan, Exhibitions & Major Display Projects. She will lead a new Division, ultimately responsible for the Museum’s ambitious redevelopment and Masterplan. The Fitzwilliam’s Masterplan aims to transform the building and displays to ensure the Museum functions as a great new social space for the region, an innovative cultural and research asset for the University of Cambridge and its great collections, and an even more extraordinary place to interact with art and history. She will also play the leading role in the creation of new displays and enhancement of existing public galleries, creating a dynamic balance between the great historical buildings and the new.

Karen joined the Science Museum Group in 2011 as its first Director of Masterplan and Estate, responsible for developing and delivering an ambitious Masterplan for each of the museums in the Group, creating new galleries and public spaces at all of them, and carrying out a radical review of the Group’s property holdings across the very diverse and geographically spread estate.

She has planned and delivered Masterplans at each of the five museums in the group, most notably the Science Museum in London, which was recently declared a winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year prize in recognition of the opening of two exceptional new permanent galleries: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, and Science City 1550 - 1800: The Linbury Gallery.

Karen Livingstone said:

I am thrilled to be joining the Fitzwilliam Museum at the beginning of a new chapter in its history and to play my part in shaping its future through a Masterplan and reinvigorated exhibition programme. I am particularly looking forward to getting to know my new colleagues, the collections, and the communities of the University and Cambridge more widely.

Dr Neal Spencer will occupy another critical new role: Deputy Director for Collections and Research. He will provide strategic and practical leadership for the Collections Division and for research and teaching in the Museum, as well as shaping a curatorial vision that creates and drives forward the Fitzwilliam’s new research strategy. As Chief Curator, he will be responsible for the management of all the Fitzwilliam’s curators, who have recently moved to academic contracts, and thus officially become part of the research family of the University of Cambridge. He will be responsible for the development and management of all research projects, working with a wide and diverse community of scholars and other experts in Cambridge and beyond, right across the humanities and the sciences.

Neal is currently Keeper of Nile Valley & Mediterranean Cultures at the British Museum, where he has shaped and led his teams in delivering exhibitions, collections-based research and archaeological fieldwork relating to Egypt, Sudan and the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Neal has also played a key role in initial work towards the redisplay of the ancient world collections, as part of the British Museum’s Masterplan.

Neal Spencer said:

I am very excited at this opportunity to join the extraordinary Fitzwilliam Museum, and to start work with colleagues across Cambridge University and beyond. I am confident we will build upon considerable existing strengths to use the collection and the many stories embedded within it for the benefit of diverse audiences across Cambridge, the UK and internationally. The collections and staff of the Fitzwilliam, and the whole University, provide an incredible platform for inspiring, informing and challenging audiences.

Karen and Neal will join Luke Syson, Director and Marlay Curator, who came to the Fitzwilliam from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019, and Kate Carreno, who has led the Museum’s Central Services, Operations and Engagement Divisions since her appointment in 2008, and is now taking on the new role of Deputy Director, Public Engagement and Partnerships. The Museum is currently recruiting a new Deputy Director, Operations.

Luke Syson said:

I am completely thrilled that Karen and Neal will be bringing their creativity and scholarship, their infectious passion for museums, and their tremendous records of achievement, to the University of Cambridge. In these difficult days, it is really good to be planning a Fitz for the future. Karen and Neal will be key to the success of all our research, display and building projects, working with a great collection and a terrific team, to make a museum that is already remarkable a truly extraordinary one.

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