Local museums are much loved, but their future is uncertain

Children viewing an exhibit in a museum
13 Jun 2024

A new report into the challenges facing the museum and gallery sector has just been published. Rachael Browning outlines its key findings and the policy recommendations emerging from it.

Unravelling the legalities of the stolen British Museum artefacts

Glass roof inside the British Museum
11 Sep 2023

The scandal of the British Museum thefts has sparked an immense, international public reaction but, as litigation expert Rosie Adcock explains, determining rightful ownership of stolen relics is complex.

Demonstration marks anniversary of museum closure

10 Jun 2024

More than 200 people gathered in Buxton in Derbyshire on Saturday (8 June) to mark a year since a museum closed in the town.

Buxton Museum was closed at short notice in June last year when dry rot was found in the building, with no timeframe given for how long remedial work would take.

The BBC reports that Derbyshire County Council has said it is looking for a new permanent venue for the museum and somewhere in the short-term for exhibits to be displayed.

A council spokesperson said: “We fully appreciate that the museum and art gallery in Buxton is held in very high regard by residents, businesses and visitors to the area.

"That passion was clearly displayed at the gathering outside the museum this weekend.

"As a council, we share that passion and are continuing to explore every avenue to secure a long-term solution."

British Museum seeks 'realistic' Parthenon solution

07 Jun 2024

The British Museum has said it is seeking “realistic solutions” for the future of the Parthenon Sculptures, recognising that "deep emotions" are involved in the question of repatriating the ancient Greek artefacts.

“The British Museum acknowledges Greece’s strong desire for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens. We understand and respect the deep emotions involved,” a museum spokesperson told SKAI TV.

The museum added that it hopes to develop a “collaboration for the Parthenon” and explore innovative cooperation with Greece to enhance the global understanding and appreciation of the sculptures.

The announcement came after Turkey's representative at the 24th UNESCO ICPRCP session - Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation - rejected the existence of an Ottoman document that authorised Lord Elgin’s removal of the sculptures.

The British Museum maintains the position that Lord Elgin was granted a permit (firman) from the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Athens at the time, to draw, measure and remove around half of the remaining sculptures from the ruins of the Parthenon.

Following Turkey's comments, Greece’s Culture Minister, Lina Mendoni, also declared that no such Ottoman firman existed, according to a report in Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

“I put this in quotes because this is an argument of the British side that has never, however, been proved to be genuine. There was never any Ottoman firman that allowed Elgin to treat the Parthenon Sculptures with the barbarity with which he treated them. At the session, the representative of Turkiye confirmed what the Greek side has argued for years – that there was no firman,” said Mendoni.

“Greece is always open to dialogue. It has tried and will continue to try so that the great national goal – which is to satisfy the national demand for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens, in the Acropolis Museum – becomes a reality.” 

Museum and gallery visits hit four-year high

People at London Tate Modern
06 Jun 2024

Visitor numbers across the 30 museums and art galleries sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, show year-on-year rise but remain more than 10% below pre-pandemic levels. 

National Museums Liverpool staff agree pay deal

06 Jun 2024

Longrunning strike action at National Museums Liverpool (NML) has ended after museum workers accepted an improved pay offer.

The Museums Association reports more than 60 days of strike action occurred in a dispute over a cost-of-living payment.

NML had said its staff were not eligible for the award, but the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union’s members argued that the institution should make the payment as it is funded by the central government and part of the civil service pensions scheme. 

The two parties have now agreed on a deal in which staff will receive a £1,200 one-off payment, two extra days of annual leave, and a 35% discount in NML shops and cafes.

Pub submits museum plans

05 Jun 2024

A pub in Market Drayton has submitted plans to become a museum and events venue.

Joule's Brewery, which owns The Stags Head in Great Hales Street, has submitted proposals to Shropshire County Council to extend the space as part of a £1m expansion of its brewery premises.

The new museum space would contain an exhibition about the history of the town and be operated by Drayton Civic Society, replacing the group's existing premises on Shropshire Street.

British Museum offers out-of-hours tour

04 Jun 2024

An out-of-hours, behind-the-scenes tour of the British Museum has launched for groups of up to eight at a cost of £79 per person.

Operated by Bloomsbury Hotel Montague on the Gardens and only available to its guests, the Conflict and Conservation tour focuses on the museum’s operation during World War Two. Attendees are granted access to the museum and some non-public areas with a guide for an hour before it opens to the general public.

The move is part of a broader trend for cultural sites to offer exclusive out-of-hours access for those willing to pay a premium. Often operated privately, the tours can provide a lucrative source of income, particularly to institutions like the British Museum, where access is usually free.

In April, the Greek Culture Ministry proposed introducing private visits to the Acropolis and the Parthenon two hours before and after regular opening hours.

Costing €5,000 for a group of five, the Hellenic Organisation of Cultural Resources Development estimated that the initiative could raise up to €40,000 a day to support and protect cultural sites.

Tate Director calls out British Museum’s BP sponsorship

04 Jun 2024

Maria Balshaw’s comments coincide with a creative protest against the ongoing sponsorship over the weekend resulting in the museum refusing entry to visitors.

Cash strapped council's museum sale raises concerns

30 May 2024

Derbyshire County Council’s plan to sell the buildings that house Buxton Museum & Art Gallery have caused concern among local campaigners, who fear the institution will be scrapped entirely as the local authority attempts to plug a £33m budget deficit.

Located in the historic Peak Buildings complex since 1928, the council-run museum closed suddenly in June 2023 after structural issues related to dry rot were discovered.

The local authority co-funded a significant refurbishment of the building in 2017 along with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, the Bingham Trust, the Wolfson Foundation, and the Paul Mellon Centre.

However, the council say the building is no longer viable due to “the potential costs and length of time which could be needed for us to bring the building back into use as a modern-day museum”.

Council Leader Barry Lewis said that the council had been left with “no choice” but to “reluctantly relocate” the museum and art gallery following ongoing building assessments, adding that work to move all artefacts would begin immediately, following which the building will be put up for sale.

“It would be far better for the building and town if the building was sold to a buyer who could invest in it and bring it back up to a high standard,” continued Lewis.

“This would be out of our reach as a local authority, and this way, we would be able to retain the sale price and re-invest in the museum when we find a new and appropriate location.”

He said the council remains “fully committed” to supporting the museum and its future in Buxton and that plans are being developed to display the collections locally in the interim period before a permanent home is found.

Despite Lewis’ assurance, residents have launched a campaign to save the museum. 

Supporters are concerned that the council has already cut or fully withdrawn funding to other heritage services to save money and are preparing to demonstrate outside the building on 8 June.

A statement from the campaigners to Museums Association said: “The lack of information has raised questions and fears that Buxton Museum & Art Gallery as we know it will be significantly reduced or scrapped altogether.

“This event [on 8 June] reflects concerns that the closure, coinciding with Derbyshire County Council's significant budget deficit and subsequent spending freeze in September 2023, will make it particularly challenging to resolve.

"The public event aims to highlight the scale of passion that the local community feel for Buxton Museum & Art Gallery and the valuable contribution that it has made to education, tourism, and cultural expression over the years.”

Scottish Funding Council cuts grants to university museums 

30 May 2024

University museums, galleries, and collections in Scotland are facing a 20% reduction in the grants they receive from the funding body for higher education in 2024/25, while those with unrecognised collections will not receive any support.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) said it had reduced the budget by 26% from £1.2m in 2023/24 to £884,000 in 2024/25 in response to a “particularly challenging” budget.

University museums that do not hold recognised collections will be removed entirely from the grant allocation, while institutions with recognised collections will see their grants reduced by 20%.

Museums Galleries Scotland said the cut would “halt excellent collaborative work”, while University Museums in Scotland (UMIS) has written to SFC to reverse the move. 

UMIS told the Museums Association that the cut was made without consultation or impact assessment. They warned that the decision would put Scottish institutions in a worse position than the rest of the UK, notably as Research England has awarded a 20% uplift in its Higher Education Museums, Galleries, and Collections Fund.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council said: “We understand the value of the university museums, galleries and collections. However, in the context of a particularly challenging budget settlement, we cannot afford to fund everything, and we have had to make some very difficult choices.

“We will continue to invest £884,000 in supporting university museums, galleries and collections which have Recognised Collections of National Significance to Scotland as designated and supported by the Museums Galleries Scotland Recognition Scheme.”

FBI investigates missing British Museum artefacts

28 May 2024

The FBI is investigating the whereabouts of hundreds of artefacts missing from the British Museum.

Some of the missing ancient gems, jewellery and other items have been traced to the USA. A buyer in New Orleans, who is no longer in possession of any items, told the BBC the FBI had been in contact asking for information about two pieces he bought on eBay.

The British Museum says that of 1,500 items estimated to have been stolen or missing, more than 600 have been bought back and a further 100 have been located. According to the BBC’s report, the US law enforcement agency has assisted in returning 268 items that were sold to a collector in Washington DC.

Senior curator Peter Higgs, has been accused by the museum of stealing, damaging and selling ancient artefacts. A court case is currently ongoing. Higgs, who has been dismissed from his role at the museum, denies the allegations.

The BBC’s latest investigation suggests artefacts could have also been sold in other countries. Danish antiquities dealer Ittai Gradel, who first alerted the museum to thefts, has tracked down artefacts that were sold to buyers in Hamburg, Cologne, Paris and Hong Kong.

British Museum locates further stolen items

21 May 2024

The British Museum has found a further 268 items that went missing or were stolen from its storerooms.

The Guardian reports that the latest batch of recovered items brings the total to 626. George Osborne, the museum’s Chair, said the number of items recovered so far was a “remarkable result”.

“Few expected to see this day, and even I had my doubts," he said. 

"When we announced the devastating news that objects had been stolen from our collection, people understandably assumed that was it – we were unlikely to ever see more than a handful of them again. That’s usually the history with thefts like this,” he said.

“But the team at the British Museum refused to give up. Through clever detective work and a network of well-wishers, we’ve achieved a remarkable result: more than 600 of the objects are back with us, and a further 100 have been identified – in total almost half the stolen items that we could recover.”

Around 2,000 items were found last year to be missing or lost, some of which had been sold on eBay.

Parts of heritage sector 'on brink of collapse’ 

Scotney Castle Garden
15 May 2024

Heritage Alliance calls on government to do more to help the heritage sector and establish an Arts Council England-like national support portfolio for heritage organisations.

Public in favour of council support for museums

15 May 2024

There is strong public support for local authority funding of museums, a survey has found.

YouGov research commissioned by Art Fund and the National Museum Directors' Council (NMDC) found that 74% of people said local government should provide at least half of its funding, with 45% saying that councils should provide most or all of it.

Meanwhile, 89% of UK adults think museums are important to UK culture, while 76% think local museums add value to their area.

Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) said that museums in the UK should be mostly or entirely funded by government. Only 3% said museums should be wholly funded by private investment or income generation.

The survey also found that 44% of people knew public funding for local museums had decreased since 2022, with only 9% thinking it had stayed the same and 4% thinking it had increased.

When asked how they would feel if their local museum were to close, 54% said they would feel disappointed, 41% would feel sad, 19% would be angry, and 16% would feel frustrated.

Two women charged over Magna Carta protest

13 May 2024

Two women in their 80s have been charged with criminal damage after the glass around the Magna Carta at the British Library was attacked, the Metropolitan Police have said.

The Guardian reports that the Rev Sue Parfitt, 82, from Bristol, and Judith Bruce, 85, from Swansea, were arrested last Friday morning (10 May).

The British Library said its security team intervened to prevent further damage to the case, and the “Magna Carta itself remains undamaged”.

The gallery housing the display is closed until further notice, it added.

The two women have been released on bail and are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on 20 June.
 

'Deteriorating' museum plans to secure new premises

09 May 2024

The trustees of a museum in Worcestershire are considering plans to register a local building as an 'Asset of Community Value' to secure new premises for its collection.

Tenbury Museum has also launched a fundraising campaign for funds to aid the purchase of a nearby recently decommissioned Methodist chapel.

Trustee Tracey Morris told the Ludlow Advisor that the “deteriorating conditions” of the museum’s current site at Goffs School meant it was no longer fit for purpose.

After failing to secure alternative venues, the museum group offered the asking price on Cornerstone Chapel in February, requesting twelve months to raise the necessary funds.

However, plans for the building to be listed on the open market are moving forward.

As a result, the museum has launched a fundraising campaign to secure the chapel through a combination of National Lottery grants, existing funds, and donations from the local community. 

The group is looking at options that would allow them to put down a holding deposit and rent the buildings during their campaign.

They are also considering registering the chapel as an Asset of Community Value, which would enact a ‘community right to bid’ with a six-month moratorium to allow finances to be raised.

Isles of Scilly museum project gets £3.4m cash boost

07 May 2024

A scheme to renovate an Isles of Scilly building and turn it into a museum has secured an additional £3.4m in funding.

The project, led by the Council of the Isles of Scilly and the Isles of Scilly Museum Association, aims to restore and extend the Grade II-listed St Mary's Town Hall and turn it into a museum and cultural centre.

The latest money, which comes from a programme managed by Cornwall Council funded by the UK government's shared Prosperity Fund, means the project is fully funded, with a total of £15.7m now raised.

Cornwall Council said the cultural centre and museum would provide a "much-needed" indoor venue for cinema, theatre and live music performances.

Louis Gardner, Cornwall Council's Portfolio Holder for Economy, said: "Once complete, it will create an enduring social and economic legacy for the islands while celebrating their unique culture and heritage."

V&A Director calls for tourist levy

Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum
01 May 2024

Leading museum figures push the idea of a tourist tax as a way to help fund museums and galleries in the face of ongoing economic challenges.

Welsh Culture Secretary pledges to keep Cardiff museum open

Exterior view of the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff picture in 2021
22 Apr 2024

Welsh Culture Secretary tells Senedd that crumbling infrastructure and a lack of funds will not force National Museum Cardiff to close.

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