Museum celebrating Blackpool opens to the public

By Tim Aldred

15 Mar 2024

Blackpool

The ribbon has been cut at Showtown, a museum dedicated to telling the history of Blackpool as a popular seaside resort and home of entertainment.

Celebrating the town, its social history and the performers who make it sparkle, it offers visitors an immersive experience, using a collection of objects, ephemera and stories from the Blackpool Council collections, 27 loaned objects from the V&A and rarely shown items from the performers themselves.

Divided into six gallery spaces over 1,000 sq m, Showtown explores the elements that make Blackpool so special: Seaside, Magic, Circus, Illuminations, Shows and Dance. The museum is full of fun, taking visitors behind the scenes and offering them the opportunity to have a go: taking their place on the promenade or performing a Punch and Judy show, magic tricks, circus skills, dressing up, producing a show, lighting the Illuminations, or dancing the Blackpool Way. 

The museum offers interactive games, audio visual prompts, original costumes, props, puppets, posters, programmes, disco booths and dance floors.

In each gallery the visitor will hear the words of entertainers (real and imagined) through the museum’s audio-visual displays, giving behind the scenes hints, tips and gossip.

Elizabeth Moss, chief executive of Showtown, said: "The lights are on, the curtain is up and we can’t wait to welcome people to Showtown. The opening of the museum is a significant moment for us and for Blackpool. Fun and amusement sit at the very heart of our innovative and world class museum which celebrates this incredible town’s entertainment history and the people who have put it on the map.

"We have reimagined how a museum should be, through our innovative displays of Blackpool’s own rich collection shown alongside key loans from international institutions and the performers themselves. These objects will delight and inform while the immersive activities throughout the galleries will allow our visitors to go behind the scenes, experiencing the very best of Blackpool.”

Showtown is a collaboration between researchers, museum designers Casson Mann, and curators, co-designed with the people and performers of Blackpool. 

The V&A has also been working in collaboration with Blackpool Council for nearly ten years with a commitment to making the V&A’s collections accessible to audiences in and around Blackpool. The V&A and Showtown have also been working in unison on skills sharing, building on opportunities for staff development and skills both in the development and operational phase of the new museum, with the V&A advising on Gallery interpretation, graphics and image licensing, public programme and forging new networks with Showtown across theatre and performance. 

In terms of acquisitions and collections development, The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund has supported Showtown to acquire Peter Kay’s famous purple suit worn by the comedian in the video for the 2005 Comic Relief single ‘(Is this the way to) Amarillo’ and the late Sir Norman Wisdom’s ‘Gump’ suit. 

Showtown is part of a wider regeneration programme for Blackpool which will see investment in infrastructure, accommodation and other improvements in the town.

Spencer Phillips, chair of Blackpool Heritage and Museum Trust, which operates Showtown said: "The glittering history of entertainment in Blackpool is something that we can all be very proud of. This project has been created to honour the legacy of the performers that have gone before and to inspire those who wish to become stars in the future. " 

Tristram Hunt, the director of the V&A said: "The V&A is committed to sharing its collections as widely as possible across the UK, which is why we are delighted to be working in collaboration with Showtown to celebrate Blackpool’s unique culture of popular entertainment.

"Iconic objects from our Theatre and Performance collection will join Showtown's permanent display, from Tommy Cooper’s magic tricks to costumes worn by Morecambe and Wise, and our rare Whimsical Walker clown costume, dating from the 19th Century. The V&A is here to support Blackpool’s investment in culture-led regeneration.”   

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: "For generations, Blackpool has been at the heart of entertainment and tourism in the UK, with crowds flocking to the town to enjoy its ballroom dancing, music halls, variety performances, comedy, arcades and so much more.

"Like so many from across the country, and down the generations, I have happy memories of my own childhood holidays in Blackpool. That's why I'm so pleased that this wonderful new museum – supported by more than £7m from the government and over £4m from National Lottery players – will help to tell the stories of this famous seaside town and celebrate all that makes it great."

Enjoyed this? Read more from Tim Aldred

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