Katherine Biggs, Senior Digital Manager at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo © Courtesy of the NPG
1.What is your museum about and what is your work there?
The National Portrait Gallery, London, was the first portrait gallery in the world when it first opened in 1856. The Gallery holds a Collection of over 200,000 portraits of people who have made and are making British history and culture, and promotes the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media.
My role is to manage all of the Gallery’s digital activity, including the management of our Collection online, which 4.6m people engaged with in 2020. While the Gallery is closed until 2023, much of our digital work is around developing new ways to share our work and Collection with audiences through technology, often through innovative partnerships.
2.What is the impact on your digital activity? Do you have tips to share with your colleagues?
Since March 2020 there has been a significant impact on the Gallery’s digital activity, firstly impacted by the national lockdown here in the UK, and then by the planned closure of the Gallery for a major redevelopment as part of our Inspiring People project, which will transform our building in London.
Designed by Jamie Fobert Architects and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project comprises of a comprehensive re-presentation of the Collection, combined with a significant refurbishment of the building, the creation of new public spaces, a more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt, and a new Learning Centre.
In addition to the work on the physical building, Inspiring People has brought a focus onto an extensive programme of activities nationwide reaching new audiences locally, regionally and online. Since March 2020, we have been developing online exhibitions to continue to share our work, and working with a range of audiences to co-create through projects.
One of these was the award-winning Hold Still, an ambitious community project spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge to create a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown. We invited people of all ages to submit a photographic portrait, taken in a six-week period during May and June 2020, and over 31,000 submissions were received from across the country, with entrants ranging from 4 to 75 years-old.
3.What advice would you give a visitor to fully discover your museum?
I would definitely recommend that everyone come and visit the redeveloped site when we reopen in 2023! In the meantime the Gallery’s website is a treasure trove of portraiture.
You can explore portraits spanning over 500 years of history, and find portraits you would never expect. One of my favourite things is to explore portraits by theme, for example portraits showing images with clocks or animals in, or portraits which show people sleeping. The Gallery holds a lot of well-known works including iconic images of famous people from Elizabeth I to David Beckham, but many do not realise how many portraits there are in the Collections, or how varied the styles.
4.What are the future projects of your museum?
We are continuing to work to share portraiture through technology, in a range of ways. We recently launched a wonderful collaboration with Megaverse, Athena Art Foundation and the National Youth Theatre to bring a portrait of Jem Belcher to life, as we as working on ongoing digital content to accompany our in-person exhibitions, such as blogs and artist and sitter films, allowing people to interract with our exhibitions from anywhere in the world.
Our partnership with Chanel Culture Fund is supporting the Gallery’s work in bringing female artists and narratives to the fore, and as part of this we have plans for a series of interviews planned, alongside walking tours which launched earlier this year. We’re working with schools and teachers to develop new digital learning resources, and planning some exciting digital inteventions for the redeveloped Gallery in London as well, to support visitors in the understanding and appreciation of portraiture.
Among the 20 most visited museums in the world, the National Portrait Gallery in London is a famous gallery in the United Kingdom and is located near Trafalgar Square in St. Martin’s Place, not far from the National Gallery.
The three-story building houses the largest portrait collection in the world with over 200,000 works placed in chronological order from 1485, from the Tudor dynasty to today. The idea of telling the history, culture and science of Great Britain through portraits was by founder Lord Stanhope in 1842. Nicholas Cullinan is the twelfth director in the history of the Gallery and Katherine Biggs has held the position of Senior Digital Manager since 2020.