Renowned for its literary associations, the Bloomsbury area boasts three first class institutions which are well worth visiting - the British Museum, the British Library, and the Wellcome Collection. Find out the highlights of their summer 2013 programmes and the best events in Bloomsbury this season.
There's not one but two blockbuster exhibitions currently on at the British Museum, Ice Age Art and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Held in the museum's circular Reading Room, Life and Death in Pompeii... is a beautiful and fascinating exhibition which brings to life the daily routine of the Romans who were caught out by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 and includes items which have never left Italy before. Continues until Sunday 29th September 2013.
There's a live cinema event, a first for the British Museum, which screens 'Pompeii Live' at local cinemas across the UK on Tuesday 18th June, enabling viewers to see a live tour of the exhibition presented by British Museum Director Neil MacGregor, curator Paul Roberts and classicist Mary Beard.
The stunning Ice Age Art brings together sculptures, figurines and engravings made in Europe from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, placing ancient masterpieces alongside modern works of art by the likes of Henry Moore, Mondrian and Matisse. The exhibition includes fascinating stone, bone and ivory sculptures and continues until Sunday 26th May 2013; well worth the £10 ticket price.
Alongside these blockbusters are smaller, free exhibitions on a variety of subjects. In Search of Classical Greece, on display at the British Museum's Print Room until Sunday 28th April 2013, gives visitors an insight into ancient Greece through the drawings and writings of classical scholar Edward Dodwell and his Italian artist companion Simone Pomardi. There's no charge, either, for seeing Bubbles and Bankruptcy Financial Crises in Britain Since 1700 which continues until Sunday 5th May 2013.
Supplementing the British Museum's first class exhibitions this summer are a series of daily talks and tours, and family events. Every Friday the museum stays open until 8.30pm but on Friday 10th May there's a special late-night event, Up Late in Pompeii, giving visitors a night out in the Bay of Naples in Roman times complete with Roman food, forum debates and a free talk on sex in Pompeii and Herculaneum, booking advised.
The British Library's major summer exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion begins on Friday 17th May and continues through to Tuesday 17th September 2013, exploring international state propaganda from its origins in ancient Greece up until the present day.
Among more than 200 exhibits on display are propaganda leaflets dropped on occupied territories during WWII, Nazi propaganda, posters, films, cartoons and everyday objects including bank notes and badges.
A series of related events include a talk by Alastair Campbell on Friday 17th May, a debate on The Art and Business of Persuasion between advertising legend Trevor Beattie and PR guru Mark Borkowski on Monday 1st July, and an appearance by former US Presidential candidate Mike Dukakis who, on Tuesday 6th August, will be joined by a leading British political figure to discuss the thorny issues of politics and elections.
A free display currently at the British Library is Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction, a fascinating exhibition which indulges our addiction to detective stories, continues until Sunday 12th May 2013. Interesting items on display include the original manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes story 'The Retired Colourman' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
On Friday 7th June 2013 the venerated library looses its shirt collar and opens its doors late for Late at the Library: The Party Rules, a late night party which ties in with the themes of the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition. DJs Alexis, Al and Felix (Hot Chip) will play an extended eclectic DJ set while band-of-the moment Public Service Broadcasting use propaganda and wartime broadcasts as the visual backdrop to their guitar, drums and electronica music. Experimental theatre from Olivier award winner Christopher Green will use propaganda to make sure a good night is had by all.
As part of Britten 100, the festival celebrating the centenary of the great composer, the British Library presents Poetry in Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), a new exhibition in The Folio Society Gallery from Friday 31st May to Sunday 15th September 2013. This free exhibition explores the poetic and literary influences on Britten's work from William Blake to William Shakespeare through photographs, concert programmes and previously unpublished recordings of his music.
The Wellcome Collection remains open to the public throughout the £17.5 million building project which begins this summer. Improvements being brought in by the development, due to be completed in summer 2014, include creating 30 per cent more gallery space using the library's iconic reading room and doubling the capacity for public events as well as adding a brand new restaurant.
In the meantime, the Wellcome Collection's spring/summer exhibition of Japanese Outsider Art, Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan, continues until 30th June 2013, showing more than 300 works in a huge diversity of mediums by 46 Japanese artists. This body of work - which includes everything from textiles to sculpture - has been made by self-taught artists diagnosed with behavioural and developmental disorders and mental illnesses, hence 'outsider'. It's a fascinating display.
Insects, in all the creepy crawly glory, are celebrated in the Wellcome Collection's Who's the Pest series of events in April and May. The free Insects Au Gratin Installation (Tuesday 23rd April 2013 to Sunday 5th May 2013) prompts viewers to ponder the advantages of entomophagy (eating insects) as a team of designers, food scientists and engineers are tasked with creating a whole new range of insect food products. While on Thursday 16th May 2013 scientists debate 'Who is more of a pest?', humans or insects? You decide.
At the Bloomsbury Theatre, a 535-seat performance space owned by University College London, comedy is a strong suit and this summer is no exception. Highlights include two nights hosted by Robin Ince, best known for presenting the BBC radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage with physicist Brian Cox, on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May, and Stand Up for Women starring Michael McIntyre and hosted by comedian James Mullinger on Monday 13th May 2013.
In May, Olivier award-winning choreographer and director Peter Schaufuss comes to the Bloomsbury Theatre for the first time with his Hamlet inspired dance drama (15th to 24th May). And June brings the inaugural London Student Drama Festival on Wednesday 19th June, a night of celebration of the creative theatrical talent across four well respected London universities (UCL, King's, SOAS, LSE) performing plays that are written, directed, produced, and acted by university students.
The Chap Olympiad
One of the more quirky events but still very much a part of spending summer in Bloomsbury, is The Chap Olympiad. Not so much a sporting occasion as a celebration of buffoonery and sporting ineptitude, The Chap Olympiad is a spiffing non-sporting event.
Bedford Square Gardens in Bloomsbury, centred on one of the best preserved set pieces of Georgian architecture in London, is a fitting backdrop for such a distinguished gathering. While this year's dates have yet to be confirmed it typically takes place in the summer and was extended to two days last year so, with luck, that will be repeated for a weekend of umbrella jousting in July 2013.
Looking beyond the summer, the Bloomsbury Festival takes place from 15th to 20th October 2013 offering an innovative arts, community and cultural programme at venues across Bloomsbury.