Museums at Night is the annual after-hours festival of culture and heritage, which explodes into life each year on the weekend nearest to International Museums Day.
This year it will take place on Friday 18, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 May - and it looks set to be the biggest ever, with over 500 events already registered! If you're interested in stepping back in time and encountering characters from the past, discovering some of the amazing cultural and heritage venues on your doorstep, or simply doing something different with your evening like a ghost hunt or sleepover, look no further.
I'm the Campaigns Officer here at Culture24: we're a non-profit cultural publishing organisation and we've coordinated the Museums at Night festival since 2009. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing stories from behind the scenes at Campaign HQ, and introducing a range of voices from the organisations who run Museums at Night events, as well as the public who love them.
So what's happening at Culture24 Towers now? Well, it's a hive of activity: boxes of our official brochure, BBC History Magazine's Guide to Museums at Night, have been delivered to us and to participating museums and galleries. We're doing all we can to get the word out about the festival - for myself and Campaigns Manager Nick it really is the busiest time of our year.
We work together with the Festival of Museums in Scotland, and Nuit des Musées across Europe, to share best practice and cross-promote our events. Excitingly, we're hoping to try livestreaming video from Museums at Night events so that audiences on the Continent will be able to catch a glimpse of what's happening in the UK.
Future Shorts programmes of new short films on the theme of love and relationships will be screened in unusual arts and heritage venues across the country: even St Helen's Central Library has got in on the act.
We're also very excited that, for the second year, Sky Arts are not only filming a documentary about the festival weekend, but will also be subsidising Museums at Night sleepovers in London, Sunderland and Hartlepool.
Connect10: top artists cross the country
For the first time this year, we trialled a competition involving ten top contemporary artists, including iconic photographer Martin Parr and provocative installation artist Ryan Gander. Any arts or heritage venue could pitch an idea presenting the creative event they would run if they won an artist for Museums at Night. Over 21,000 public votes were cast, and the winning venues range from Brunel's ss Great Britain in Bristol, which jellymongers Bompas & Parr will surround with a jelly flood; to Victoria Art Gallery & Museum in Liverpool, where taxidermist Polly Morgan will give a live demonstration; and Eastbourne's Towner Gallery which signwriter Bob & Roberta Smith will transform into a "Museums at Nightclub".
Creating 'Number 11 at Night'
We were recently invited to celebrate the success of the festival at Number 11 Downing Street, which was an interesting challenge as we attempted to recreate a typical Museums at Night event, "Number 11 at Night".
Downing Street was built in the 1680s, so we offered our guests food and drink from the period - potage, herb 'sallat' and Stepony cordial. We invited storytellers from the Parliamentary Archives and the History of Parliament Trust along to share some background on Chancellors from the past, while curators from the Government Art Collection and the Cartoon Museum also told stories to bring the art on the walls to life.
Faber Archive competition
Finally, we've just launched an exclusive competition for six lucky winners to journey through 80 years of literary history at the Faber Archive, which is never usually open to the public.
Archivist Robert Brown will lead book-lovers through fascinating artefacts such as TS Eliot's desk and WH Auden's manuscripts, before award-winning poet Lavinia Greenlaw round off the night with an intimate poetry reading
Why is the festival so popular?
Our Museums at Night 2012 ambassador Lauren Laverne says: "I am really pleased to be the Ambassador for Museums at Night again this year.
It is a brilliant campaign and there is something incredibly exciting about being in a museum or gallery at night time.
There is such a broad array of events taking place all over the country during the festival weekend - it's a fantastic opportunity for everyone to experience the magic for themselves."
If you'd like to explore fantastic museums, galleries and heritage sites after hours over the weekend of 18-20 May, you'll find Museums at Night events near you at www.museumsatnight.org.uk.