I can think of several pretty obvious, but nonetheless compelling, reasons that Museum ‘lates’ have become more and more popular in recent years. Firstly, many of them are adults-only, which, ironically, means adults are free to act like children. The Science Museum’s Launchpad area and the front row at London Zoo’s keeper talks are finally available to enjoy without feeling as if you’re taking something educational away from a youngster. Recently, a friend and I experienced the Transport Museum’s ‘Carnival Friday Late’ and were not disappointed. We explored the museum’s exhibits to the sounds of a live steel band, watched a samba class (and lamented our own lack of rhythm), and took advantage of the bar’s two-for-£10 cocktail offer.
There’s also the draw of added extras and special scheduling from these institutions, who are trying to make themselves more appealing (and to help us spend more money). Food pop-ups, drinks offers, free bus tours (run by the monthly First Thursdays group in East London), one-night-only exhibits, talks and live performances (the National Gallery and Tate Britain, pictured, both schedule talks and workshops for their Friday lates), and even a ‘Dino Snores’ sleepover at the Natural History Museum are only available to those in the know, making you feel like a bit of a culture vulture for discovering them.
Finally, it’s not just a London thing. Manchester Art Gallery is open late every Thursday, offering life-drawing classes and a ‘Philosophy Café’. Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum are open until 9pm every Thursday of the summer (and the cafe will host a barbecue night each week); the Oxford Ashmolean runs Live Friday; and, as part of the Fringe, Edinburgh’s National Museum Scotland is hosting three adults-only events. And why stop at just one venue? Light Night Leeds and Brighton’s White Night are both annual night-time culture festivals that get museums and galleries across the city involved.
Fewer crowds, more entertainment, and a way to avoid doing my weekday train journey from Sussex to central London at the weekend, too: now, whenever I’m asked along to an exhibition, my immediate thought is: ‘A Saturday would be good, but a late night would be better.’
Zoo Lates (sold out for 2014)
Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth Museum are open until 9pm every Thursday until August 28. Weather permitting, the cafe will host a barbecue night each week until August 21.
Museum After Hours at National Museum Scotland, three nights in August
Light Night Leeds, Friday October 3
Words: Sarah Morgan