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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Museum celebrates landmark year
The British Museum
The museum will continue its celebrations until 2004

Staff at London's British Museum will celebrate its 250th anniversary on Saturday - while keeping focused on the plight of its Iraqi counterpart.

Amid the champagne, four museum staff are preparing to fly to Baghdad to join a British Museum curator already assisting the international rescue effort.

It follows the plundering of hundreds of priceless antiquities from Iraq's national museum and archaeological sites by looters following the US-led invasion.

British Museum director Neil MacGregor, who has led the UK's rescue party, said Iraq remained its number one priority.

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"The point is to allow Iraqi colleagues to set out their needs and their priorities," he told BBC News Online.

"We will be the clearing house for international support."

The British Museum's anniversary celebrations have been sweetened by its financial turnaround - from debts estimated at 10m a year ago to a predicted break-even balance sheet by the end of the financial year.

Its improved fortunes have not come about without cost - there have been 75 voluntary redundancies so far - but Mr MacGregor said it would secure the museum's short-term future.

"It was a painful task and a difficult experience, but we know we can now run the British Museum," he said.

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Elgin Marbles
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"The great thing about being 250 is that it gives the right perspective to everybody," he said.

"If you are a great world collection that has been open for 250 years you realise that the problem of financial shortfall cannot be seen as very major."

The museum became the first public and national institution of its kind in the world when it was founded on 7 June in 1753.

In recognition of its special cultural role, it is staging a series of anniversary events free of charge for the public.

They include music and dance, as well as celebrity readings and displays.

On Saturday, there will be performances from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, dance and world music, ranging from Indian dohl drummers to Japanese shakuhachi.

Playwright Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett will join in the celebrations
Special displays, such as one devoted to the Vikings, will highlight the range of ancient and contemporary treasures housed in the museum.

Meanwhile, celebrity guests will give readings from a range of works.

They include writer Vikram Seth reading from his Beastly Tales.

And acclaimed playwright Alan Bennett will read from a Richmal Crompton Just William story.

After Saturday, the museum will continue to mark its anniversary with a range of events that continue until 2004.

Museum of the Mind, which opened in April but carries on until September, brings together the iconic pieces from across the museum's permanent collections.

Death mask of Oliver Cromwell
The British Museum has a death mask of Oliver Cromwell
And a show called London, 1753, which continues until November, explores the historical environment of the year in which the museum came into being.

In December, the museum will focus on two major events, said to be the centrepiece of the anniversary celebrations.

The King's Library will reopen after a complete restoration. The area - built in 1820 - is the oldest part of the museum's present building.

It used to house the books of King George III and is of considerable architectural interest.

The books are now in the British Library in London.

But, this has made way for the museum's new permanent exhibition, Enlightenment: Discovering the world in the 18th Century.

It will bring together pieces illustrating how the period was a time of intense activity devoted to the study and interpretation of the natural world, the past and other civilisations.




SEE ALSO:
Big year for the British Museum
06 Jun 03  |  Entertainment
Virtual future for ancient relics
04 Jun 03  |  Technology
In pictures: British Museum at 250
15 Apr 03  |  Photo Gallery
Iraqi looting 'a loss to mankind'
29 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
UK sends antiquities experts to Iraq
15 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
British Museum 'needs 10m boost'
27 Jun 02  |  Entertainment


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