If you have youngsters in the family, did you pay a visit to one of Scotland’s science centres over the school holidays?
Or, after the expense of Christmas, was that one treat you just couldn’t stretch to? Because it is a stretch for many families, as, unlike our national museums and galleries, entrance to our science centres is not free. At the centres in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, ticket prices range from £5.75 to £11.50 for adults and £4.50 to £7.50 for children. Multiply those by the number of people in your group, add on transport/parking, snacks, and the pester power of the gift shop, and you might be ready to jump off the nearest fiscal cliff.
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There are, of course, concession tickets - including under 3s admitted free, and discounted annual passes - but, when access to our national art collections is free, why should our terrific science and engineering centres be off-limits to those who can’t afford the entrance price?
I know I’m not comparing like with like - there are many museums which do charge an entrance price, including the National Museums of Rural Life and Flight, and the science centres are increasingly cash-strapped independent organisations. The Glasgow Science Centre’s excellent Manifesto is worth reading - passionate about the importance of science to our nation, but honest about our shortfall in skills and innovation, it ends with a statement that Scotland’s Science Centres “are currently an under utilised resource”.
It’s a tragic situation, particularly when you think of the queues round the block for London’s Science Museum where entry is free. Or, back in Glasgow, where there’s free entry just along the river, to the multi-million pound Riverside Museum. If it’s a question of priorities, what’s more important - a Museum of Transport and Travel, or a new Scottish Palace of Science, that would celebrate our nation’s glorious past and encourage new generations of innovators and inventors?
If that’s too big a leap of the imagination for the moment, how about a boost in funding to the science centres which are doing such a vital job?
OK, since I’m banging on about free access, exhibitions, and science and technology, here are two shows I recommend which combine all three! The Human Race family-friendly exhibition tells the story of Scotland’s role in the development of sport and exercise medicine, and includes newly-commissioned artworks, film, interactive technology, and the stories of pioneers including physiotherapist Jimmy Steel, who worked with Celtic and Scotland football teams for fifty years. It’s on at Govanhill Baths until the 3rd of February.
And at The Lighthouse in the city centre, Above Scotland is worth a visit - a stunning collection of large-scale images of the landscape of Scotland, taken from the National Collection of Aerial Photography. From remote islands to cities, it shows how almost no part of the country has been left untouched, and how our landscapes are a product of human invention and intervention. It continues until the 23rd of January.