It was fascinating to hear that the British Museum is missing its visitors in more ways than one. It seems that the exhalations of the 17,000 visitors that the museum received daily prior to lock-down were essential for keeping precious exhibits at the correct humidity levels. The museum has not been closed for more than three days at a time (over Christmas) since World War II. Since the closure in March the relative humidity levels have fallen dangerously below 40%, which means that objects made from wood and bone have been drying out and are prone to cracking and fracture. Museum staff have been monitoring the situation closely and moving the most sensitive objects to their environmentally controlled strongrooms. The re-opening of the museum is eagerly awaited by all!
I was appalled to hear that the National Trust plans to ‘dial down’ its role as a cultural institution and focus on the open spaces in its portfolio instead, claiming that the Covid pandemic has merely accelerated an already difficult situation. Even though the Trust has £1.3 billion in reserves, it proposes to keep only 20 of its 500+ historic homes and castles open to the public, to put its collections into storage and to make properties available to people who are prepared to pay more for ‘specialised experiences’. Furthermore, it plans to make 1,200 redundancies, which would include dozens of its specialist curators in areas such as textiles, furniture and libraries, as well as conservation. As Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian, observes, ‘the Trust’s senior management have been making a mess of their historic properties for some time, dumbing down presentation and moving away from knowledge and expertise’, adding that it was reckless to abandon expertise built up over generations as ‘once gone, it will be impossible to retrieve’. The Trust has been accused in the past of ‘Disneyfying’ its properties and this latest news will do nothing to dispel alarm. The running of the properties should be handed to an organisation willing to run them according to the founding principles of the Trust. In the meantime I, and probably many others, will not be renewing my membership.
It’s becoming ever clearer that the culture and heritage sectors will pay a high price as a result of the pandemic. As more than 300 redundancies are announced in Tate’s commercial arm, Tate Enterprises, about 400 at London’s Southbank Centre and also at museum trusts in York and Birmingham, together with the National Trust, it seems that the government’s Culture Recovery Fund is clearly too little, too late. Tate’s director, Maria Balshaw, has actually stated that the bailout funding will not stem job losses because it will have to be used to offset substantial losses elsewhere in the galleries. Little wonder that trade unions are threatening strike action.
Museums Sheffield, which manages the Graves Art Gallery, Millennium Galleries and Weston Park Museum, is to merge with Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust (SIMT), which runs Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Kelham Island Museum and Shepherd Wheel. The new charitable trust will reunite collections that were previously managed by Sheffield City Council. The merger, which will come into effect in April 2021, has been in the pipeline for three years and is not, reportedly, a reaction to Covid-19. Instead, the primary focus is on closer working ties and identification of shared opportunities following several shared ventures over the last few years that will create one of the UK’s largest combined museums services.
This could be the start of a growing trend that sees strength in numbers, as the Mary Rose and National Museum of the Royal Navy announced last week their commitment to working more closely together with the aim of boosting the post-Covid offer of Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. Both venues open on 24 August and will be offering an ‘ultimate explorer’ joint ticket that also allows entry to HMS Victory and HMS Warrior, for up to a year. The initiative includes closer collaboration on marketing and operations and a brand refresh for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard as well.
DCMS’s announcement of the government rescue package of £1.57 billion for arts and heritage was received with cautious optimism. There was mention of boosting employment prospects for both permanent staff and freelancers with specific funding for projects that had been mothballed due to Covid, but there is still concern that money will not reach quickly enough areas where it is needed most. With grants available from £50,000 up to £3 million, distribution of funds in the GLAM sector has fallen to Arts Council England, Historic England and National Heritage Lottery Fund. Applications are open for the first phase of grants but, whilst eligibility is wide, the window is short.
More details here: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/culture-recovery-fund-grants#section-1
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture