Northern Lights: Extraordinary pair of exhibitions celebrate all Sheffield has to offer 

Leonardo da Vinci, The head of St Philip, c.1495. Royal Collection Trust  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018
Leonardo da Vinci, The head of St Philip, c.1495. Royal Collection Trust Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

I no longer make New Year resolutions, I know myself too well; in the past I’ve set myself overly ambitious targets and I’ve inevitably lost my willpower by mid-January. 

At 2.14am on January 1, 1994, my daughter arrived, the first baby born at the Northern General Hospital that year. Giving birth is an incredible way to start a New Year;  wrapped in that pink NHS blanket lies the potential for love, untold happiness and worry and above all for life.

It’s a difficult thing to top, but you never forget bringing life into the world and it is a reminder that the most important resolution for any time of year is to hold everything dear.

Becoming a parent was a turning point, and since that day, my resolution has been to find joy in the everyday and, no matter how hard the day might have been, at home or at work, I end it with a moment in which to reflect on the good things we have and those ahead.

So stepping into work on January  2nd , after a busy Christmas break, I considered the things I hold dear and what we do and what’s to come that makes my work worthwhile.

As human beings, we all look for ways to help us navigate our path through life.

Museums give people moments in which to think and talk, spark imaginations, help us to learn and to make sense of our past, present and future.

As a parent, I want every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience great art and museums – to be able take inspiration from the very best of the world’s collections of art, history and science, to learn from what has gone before and find hope in the possibilities ahead of us.

As Chief Executive of Museums Sheffield, I’m passionate about bringing the best to the city. Of equal importance is celebrating all that Sheffield and its people have achieved and have to offer, and showcasing that to the rest of the world.

Looking at the year ahead, I hope that two extraordinary exhibitions will do all of the above.

Later this month sees the launch of a major new exhibition marking the bicentenary of the birth of John Ruskin (1819–1900). Ruskin created the Sheffield collection with a singular purpose – to captivate and inspire working people, to compel them to action and inspire them to greatness. And fundamentally, he imagined a Britain that was a better place to live.

Ruskin’s collection, owned by the Guild of St George and housed at the Millennium Gallery, is one Sheffield’s greatest cultural treasures. Bringing together art, literature and natural science, it exemplifies his ideas around seeing beauty in the world around us, ideas that would influence figures from Mahatma Gandhi to William Morris.

Opening at London’s Two Temple Place on 26 January, John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing will be the first time Sheffield’s Ruskin collection has been displayed en masse in the capital. Curated by Museums Sheffield, in partnership with the Guild of St George  and the Bulldog Trust, the exhibition chronicles the breadth of Ruskin’s remarkable achievements. Not least of these was his bold vision to create a collection that inspired

Sheffield’s talented craftspeople. 150 years on, Sheffield is a city of makers, and the exhibition presents a tremendous opportunity to showcase an important part of its history, and a fundamental part of who we are, to an international audience.

Then in February, we have the honour of bringing work by arguably the greatest artist that ever lived to Sheffield. Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing will see some of the Renaissance master’s most extraordinary drawings shown at the Millennium Gallery as part of a major nationwide exhibition marking the 500 th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.

Twelve drawings from the Royal Collection that reflect the diversity of Leonardo’s interests will illustrate his unparalleled gift as an artist, draftsman and scientist, and a man truly ahead of his time.

Amongst the works on display here will be The head of St Philip (c.1495), a study for one of the world’s most famous paintings, The Last Supper. In this one drawing, Leonardo’s eye and hand capture the sadness of this young man in an idealised image that asks us to consider our lives and our humanity. Seeing works by Leonardo in the flesh, here in Sheffield is a once in lifetime opportunity.

I may only be able to stick to one resolution, but it’s an important one – to look ahead, to recognize the things that are important and hold them dear. Here’s to a peaceful 2019.