Dr Nicholas Cullinan Appointed New Director of Troubled British Museum  

Dr Nicholas Cullinan

Dr Nicholas Cullinan OBE has been appointed the new Director of the British Museum. He will inherit a position marred by staff departures and ongoing legal proceedings against a former curator, Peter Higgs, over thefts of antiquities from the Greek and Roman collections.

Cullinan will mark a significant transition for one of the UK’s most esteemed cultural institutions at a time when restitution hangs over the Elgin (Parthenon) marbles and a host of other treasures hoarded as far back as the 18th century. The decision, unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees and with the blessing of the Prime Minister, heralds a new era under the leadership of a highly respected figure in the museum world.

“I look forward to joining its wonderful and dedicated staff… in leading it into a new chapter,” he said, adding this would “encompass the most significant transformations, both architectural and intellectual, happening in any museum globally, to continue making the British Museum the most engaged and collaborative it can be”. – Dr Nicholas Cullinan OBE

Cullinan, renowned for his tenure as Director of the National Portrait Gallery since April 2015, brings a wealth of experience and a track record of transformative leadership to his new role. While at the National Portrait Gallery, he spearheaded a monumental overhaul, including a comprehensive re-presentation of the Collection and extensive redevelopment of the premises, expanding public space by a notable margin.

Prior to his role at the National Portrait Gallery, Cullinan held positions at esteemed institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Tate Modern in London, where he served as a curator. His international perspective and visionary approach have earned him widespread acclaim in the art world.

Cullinan will succeed Interim Director Sir Mark Jones and will assume his new responsibilities in the summer. George Osborne, Chair of the British Museum, expressed confidence in Cullinan’s ability to lead the institution into a new chapter of growth and innovation. He cited Cullinan’s proven leadership and potential to drive the museum’s ambitious plans for redevelopment forward.

In response to his appointment, Cullinan expressed gratitude for the opportunity to lead one of the world’s preeminent museums. He acknowledged the extraordinary achievements of his predecessors and affirmed his commitment to building on their legacy. Cullinan highlighted the British Museum’s pivotal role in shaping cultural discourse and emphasised his dedication to fostering engagement and collaboration.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer welcomed Cullinan’s appointment, praising his successful tenure at the National Portrait Gallery and expressing optimism for his leadership at the British Museum. She underscored the importance of strengthening partnerships, advancing capital projects, and ensuring the museum’s collections remain accessible to future generations.

Cullinan said, “I look forward to leading the institution in a “new chapter” following a major theft scandal and to oversee “the most significant transformations, both architectural and intellectual”.

Cullinan’s illustrious career spans various prestigious fellowships, extensive publications, and international lectureships. He holds a BA, MA, and PhD in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and his contributions to the arts were recognized with an OBE in the 2024 King’s New Year’s Honours list.

As Cullinan prepares to take the helm at the British Museum, expectations are high for his transformative vision and ability to steer the institution toward continued excellence on the global stage.

Top Photo: © Zoë Law Courtesy NPG

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