This May museums across the East of England are celebrating Museums and Galleries Month with a festival of free events on a Chinese theme. In Norwich, Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts are collaborating for the first time to provide the city with a unique chance to experience this fascinating culture at close quarters. From porcelain and lanterns to dragons and fans, family workshops, talks by experts, demonstrations and live performances – there is something for everyone as East meets East!

Lion Dancers from the Hung Sing Martial Arts School, based in Norwich, at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts Photo: Andi Sapey

Many Chinese inventions have influenced Western culture, affecting the way we dress (silk), the way we do business (paper money, postal system), the items we use in our daily lives (porcelain, scissors) and what we eat and drink (tea, noodles).

As Vanessa Trevelyan, Head of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service, reflects, the China East theme is about understanding this impact: “China East is about culture not politics. Museum collections throughout our region reflect the far-reaching influence of Chinese technology and artistry on our daily lives. China East is, therefore, as much about understanding ourselves as it is about the enduring relationship between East and West.”

This is the focus for events at Norfolk Castle Museum & Art Gallery as it looks forward to the opening of two new decorative arts galleries later this year. Their exciting Museums and Galleries Month programme includes a sneak preview of some of the beautiful objects that will be on display in the new galleries, with a particular emphasis on fine porcelain.

On Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May visitors to the Castle will have the chance to watch a live demonstration of the delicate art of hand decoration by staff from the Lowestoft Porcelain factory – and then have a go themselves in an artist-led workshop activity for all the family.

Colin Challis from Lowestoft Porcelain hand-painting china at Norwich Castle Museum Photo: Andi Sapey

On Saturday 17 May the curator of the decorative arts collection will be giving a fascinating talk on how the West finally discovered the secret of making porcelain.

Also at the Castle, a lively costumed demonstration, Fan-tastic! (3 &4, 17 & 18 May), will show visitors how to tell someone you love them (and other things!) using the language of fans.

On Sunday 18 May the Castle hosts an illustrated talk by fan expert and curator of the Fan Museum in London, Hélène Alexander.

Highlights at other NMAS sites in Norwich include a special Chinese-themed Under Wraps session on Friday 16 May at the Bridewell exploring beautiful textiles from the collections, while East Meets West uses the Bridewell’s nationally renowned pharmacy collection to celebrate the similarities and differences between Chinese and Western medicine (21 & 30 May).

Finally, the highly-skilled conservation team based at the Norwich Castle Study Centre are running a series of ‘behind-the-scenes’ tours called Handle with Care on Wednesdays during May so visitors can find out more about how delicate objects are mended and preserved for display.

Meanwhile, at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, visitors will be offered the unique experience of a Museums at Night Special on Wednesday 21 May when the Centre will be open until 10pm. Entry will be free and the evening will include traditional Chinese lion dancing and workshops from the Hung Sing Martial Arts School.

Local artists will present work inspired by Chinese culture and there will be performances from stand-up comedian Thomas Ingram and experimental musicians Spidermilk. Activities for children will include making Chinese lanterns and then exploring the collections to find Chinese objects by lantern light; listening to stories based on objects in the collection and making clothes from Chinese newspapers.

As part of this event, along with more than seventy other museums and galleries around the country, the Sainsbury Centre will be taking part in a special showing of Nick Park’s Oscar winning animation ‘The Wrong Trousers’ to celebrate the national Museums and Galleries Month theme of ‘Ideas and Innovation’.

“The Museums at Night Special is a chance for people to experience the Sainsbury Centre as they never have before and see the collections in a new light. The entire building will be buzzing with activity and there will be something for everybody to enjoy.”
– Charlotte Peel, Education and Events Officer, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

Events at the Sainsbury Centre with a Chinese theme will continue throughout Museums and Galleries Month. The Centre has programmed a special First Sunday on 4 May when families will be invited to make Chinese Lion finger puppets and enjoy music and family activities throughout the day. From Tuesday 27 to Thursday 29 May families can drop in to the education studio for a Children’s Holiday Studio, Chinese Challenges with the opportunity to enjoy independent art activities and make their own Olympic mascots. There will also be chance to find out more about the Chinese objects in the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection with an Art for Lunch talk by one of the Sainsbury Centre guides on Friday 30 May at 1.15pm.

Behind all the fun there is a serious purpose that goes to the heart of museums’ role. As Kate Carreno, Deputy Director at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts says: “Museums, through their collections, are uniquely placed to provide a meeting point for different traditions. In politically charged times it’s more important than ever that museums offer a space for dialogue and mutual respect.”

China East is this region’s celebration for Museums and Galleries Month, an annual campaign to encourage new visitors and remind people of the treasures on their doorstep. This year’s national theme of Ideas and Innovation has inspired museums in the East of England to explore China and its far-reaching influence on our culture through their varied and fascinating collections. Participating museums include the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service, Museums Luton, Saffron Walden Museum and Braintree District Museum.

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Castle Meadow
Norwich NR1 3JU
Open Monday to Friday 10am – 4.30pm (5.30pm during half-term)
Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 1pm – 5pm
Admission £5.80 adults, £4.95 concessions, £4.25 children (4-16)

Call 01603 493625 or visit

The Bridewell
Bridewell Alley
Norwich NR2 1AQ
Open Tuesday to Friday 10am – 4.30pm (5pm during half-term)
Saturday 10am – 5pm
Closed Sunday and Monday
Admission £3.20 adults, £2.65 concessions, £1.75 children (4-16)

Norwich Castle Study Centre
Shirehall, Market Avenue
Norwich NR1 3JQ
Admission free but visits must be booked in advance on 01603 593625 (Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm)

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm
Wednesday 10am – 8pm
Closed on Mondays
Admission free to the permanent collections.

Call 01603 563199 or visit