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‘Queen of Museums’ steps down, leaving a lasting legacy

2 June 2021

One of Fife’s true cultural treasures – whose tireless work has touched countless lives – is calling it a day after 34 years in the heritage sector.

OnFife’s Cultural Heritage Manager Dallas Mechan – dubbed the Queen of the Museums by colleagues – is bringing to a close a stellar career immersed in museums, archives and galleries.

Warm tributes were paid last week at an emotional farewell that celebrated a life’s work of museum openings, gallery revamps and a drive to make Fife’s cultural assets more readily available to all.

Were you to list the curator’s many feats, you would need to open an archive of your own. Highlights include leading teams that launched Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries, completed two refurbishments of Kirkcaldy Galleries and kick-started OnFife’s Mobile Museum, MAC.

And that would say nothing of her working with colleagues to enhance OnFife’s treasure house of cultural artefacts, or helping to create a Collections Centre that makes objects accessible when they’re not on public display.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing people and wonderful collections. The opportunity to discover and share people’s stories through them has been a privilege,” says Dallas, whose sojourn in Fife began as Assistant Curator at Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery.

It was a chance to make a career out of a passion for history that was kindled during her childhood in Dundee. “I’ve always enjoyed visiting museums and castles. My dad loved history and archaeology and I have fond memories of digging in the midden at Red Castle, Lunan Bay, as a little girl with his chums from the Abertay Historical Society.”

Studies in architecture at University came after school, but a nagging feeling that it wasn’t for her prompted a spell as a volunteer at the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. Work as a Research Assistant followed and then a place on the postgraduate Museum Studies course at the University of Leicester. Next stop was Kirkcaldy.

“It was daunting,” Dallas recalls. “There were only two professional staff after such a huge team of specialists in Ednburgh. I was suddenly in a job looking after everything from bronze age axe heads to miners’ lamps, as well as an astonishingly good art collection. But it was hugely exciting and I loved the building and it just felt great to be part of it.”

The job, like so many, has changed almost immeasurably in the intervening years: “It’s gone from doing things myself to leading a team of people doing them, and taking on a far wider range of tasks. Technology has transformed the sector and opened up so many new ways of sharing and discovering the collections.”

When Dallas started out, staff were creating posters with letraset, photocopying and heat sealing photographs – now they’re creating digital stories on social media. It is, says Dallas, fabulous having new ways of sharing the amazing stories OnFife has to tell.

And behind all this, reflects Dallas, is a fundamental shift: “The other thing that has changed is how much we have opened things up and now involve people in what we do – out front and behind the scenes. I’m really going to miss all the wonderful people I’ve worked with.”

OnFife Chief Executive Heather Stuart says it’s hard to believe Dallas is retiring: “She’s been a huge part of our organisation and a well-known figure to so many people across Fife’s communities, as well as in her own professional network. When you have a colleague as great as Dallas, I think you always hope they will be there forever.”

OnFife’s Director of Creative Development Michelle Sweeney echoes the sentiments: “We’ll miss Dallas’ humour, passion and expertise. The esteem in which she’s held was clear in the numbers who attended her virtual send off, and in the warmth of the words they expressed. There’s no doubt that Dallas’ legacy will live on in our museums and collections.”

Ends

For further information contact Sheona Small, press officer, 07809 727 989 or email sheona.small@onfife.com

Notes to editors: OnFife is a registered charity and manages and operates theatres, libraries, museums and galleries and cultural partnerships on behalf of Fife Council for people living, working and visiting Fife. Further information can be found at www.onfife.com

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