Museums in Oxford return ancestral Aboriginal remains

05 Oct 2023

A handover ceremony has taken place to mark the repatriation of ancestral remains from two museums in Oxford to Aboriginal communities in Australia.

The Museum's Association reports that the Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford University Museum of Natural History are returning the remains of 11 Aboriginal ancestors.

The return is part of an agreement between the museums and the Australian Government to repatriate 30 ancestors in total.

Laura Van Broekhoven, director of the Pitt Rivers Museum, said: “For the Pitt Rivers Museum, ceremonies like these introduce new chapters in our history as a museum. 

"We want to thank Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for their leadership in this process; we are pleased that the ancestors are finally able to return home. We are grateful to join this Indigenous-led process that works towards healing.”

Financial climate for museums to 'get worse before it gets better'

04 Oct 2023

The cost-of-living crisis continues to impact museums across England, and the situation is expected to get worse before it gets better, according to a new report.

Funded by Arts Council England and produced by South West Museum Development, the Annual Museums Survey gathered data on 700 accredited non-national English museums. It found while visitor numbers in 2022/23 were higher than the previous year, they were down 18% on pre-pandemic levels.

Museums also reported increased expenditure of 10%, mainly on energy bills, materials, staff costs and travel. At the same time, visitor spending was down overall and some organisations had also experienced a drop in donations.

After a slight increase in reported income during 2020/21 and 2021/22, overall income for museums dropped by 3% in 2022/23.

The report found museums attempting to balance the need to generate more revenue by increasing ticket prices with a desire to keep admission fees low to encourage visitors.

Respondents said schools were struggling to fund museum visits for pupils, especially the transport costs. The report concluded that museum visitor demographics and behaviour are increasingly difficult to predict.

The cost-of-living crisis has also significantly impacted museum staff and volunteers, according to the survey, as some employees departed for higher-paid jobs or moved to new roles closer to home.

Seasonal staff and lower-paid positions in retail, catering and cleaning proved challenging to hire, while some volunteers returned to paid jobs or could not afford to travel to perform their roles.

Despite this, the number of volunteers increased last year by 11%, only 5% fewer than pre-pandemic levels.

Victoria Harding, Programme Manager at South West Museum Development, said: "A range of factors, such as free entry and geography, have influenced the degree to which museum visitors have returned to pre-pandemic levels.  

"However, across the sector, irrespective of how successfully museums have generated increased income through a variety of new, or enhanced, ways this progress is outstripped by the increase in expenditure reported by 64% of museums."
 

Partial closure of York Castle Museum after concrete discovery

02 Oct 2023

Several galleries at York Castle Museum have been closed following the discovery of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in the building's roof.

The museum is on the site of the city's former prison, constructed between 1780 and 1783. Part of it was first converted into a museum in 1938, and the roof has undergone substantial repairs over the years.

The museum's Kirkgate exhibition as well as the Shaping the Body and Period Rooms displays have been closed while further inspections take place.

Kathryn Blacker, Chief Executive of York Museums Trust, said the closure was a precautionary measure.

"We're doing all we can to ensure the necessary inspections take place as soon as possible and are planning for any potential actions we will need to put place when we receive the results of the inspection," she said.

The rest of the museum is to remain open with ticket prices being reduced during the closure.

Hampshire arts venues threatened by proposed funding cuts

02 Oct 2023

Hampshire Culture Trust has said the closure of multiple museums and arts venues across the county is “inevitable” if funding cuts proposed by Hampshire County Council go ahead.

The council, which is the trust’s largest funder at £2.5m annually, has proposed cutting its funding by almost 50% as part of a recent budget review.

The trust operates museums, art galleries and arts centres that attract 600,000 visitors anually and is responsible for 2.5m museum objects.

A council spokesperson told local press the council is facing an estimated budget shortfall of £132m by April 2025.

“With such major budget constraints, we are having to consider very carefully how we can close this funding gap in future and regrettably, some very tough decisions are now needed on what the authority can and cannot continue to do in future.”

Paul Sapwell, Hampshire Cultural Trust Chief Executive, said the trust has huge sympathy for the council’s position but urged for consideration of whether the reduction is proportionate.

“We want to talk about the size of the reduction, the timescales of which they want to make that reduction, what those consequences would look like, and whether there are opportunities to mitigate that reduction through greater partnership to mutual benefit,” Sapwell added.

“Future venue closures across the county will be inevitable if a cut of this scale is agreed. We believe a better solution can be found and that the trust can have a positive future, although tough decisions will need to be made.

“We believe a solution exists and we want to work with the County Council to find it.”

British Museum launches webpage to recover stolen objects

28 Sep 2023

The British Museum has announced the launch of a webpage that aims to help recover some of the almost 2,000 antiquities that have been stolen from its collection over the past seven years.

The webpage does not record the exact details of individual stolen items. Instead, it describes “the types of objects that are missing” and displays illustrative photographs, so that the public will be better able to identify whether they have come into contact with items, the Art Newspaper reported.

The museum has so far recovered 60 items. A further 300 have been identified and are “due to be returned imminently”, it said it a statement. It did not give details about the items that have been recovered and identified so far. 

Around 1,600 objects from the Greek and Roman departments have yet to be tracked down, including gold jewellery and gems made from semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th Century BC and later. 

The museum has not disclosed how many of these artefacts have been identified. Records of some objects are reported to have been incomplete.

A spokesperson for the Art Loss Register, which is assisting the museum with its recovery operation, told the Art Newspaper that the museum has chosen not to reveal the exact details of items that remain missing because it might “enable those who are holding such pieces and are acting in bad faith to avoid detection”.

This might result in artefacts being sold “through channels where fewer questions are asked” or even being destroyed, the spokesperson said.

Experts from Art Loss Register are part of an international panel of 14 leading specialists assembled by the museum to aid in the identification and recovery of the lost artefacts.

The museum is also working with the Metropolitan Police and is actively monitoring the art market, including online.
 

There is plenty of room in museums for all of us

Symbol of transgender symbol visible through torn paper on a pink and blue background
27 Sep 2023

In response to criticism of new guidance on trans inclusive practice in museums, its authors Suzanne MacLeod, Richard Sandell, Sharon Cowan and E-J Scott push back against the critics, arguing the guidance can be used with confidence.

Planning permission granted for Somerset Shoemakers Museum

26 Sep 2023

A museum detailing the history of the shoe brand Clarks has been granted planning permission.

Located in Street, Somerset, the Shoemakers Museum will sit within the grounds of the Grange, currently occupied by the Alfred Gillett Trust, the charity that preserves the heritage collections of C & J Clark Ltd. 

The Clark family founded their well-known British brand nearly 200 years ago. 

The museum will include a permanent gallery displaying the history of the company, as well as temporary display areas, an open-air events space, an education room and a library. It will also house a café and display Street’s famous Ichthyosaurs fossil.

It is being designed by architects and heritage consultants Purcell, who will ensure that the main building is preserved. Energy-efficient lighting and high-efficiency boilers will be installed, while the existing radiators will be serviced and retained.

A 1970s extension, 20th century boiler rooms and an ageing structure known as the Link Building will be removed to make way for the new two-storey museum structure.

The first phase of the museum is due to open in 2025.

Heritage sites to be 'transformed into community hubs'

A circus performer balances on top of a ladder in front of the Ice House in Great Yarmouth
26 Sep 2023

National Lottery Heritage Fund says money provided to heritage sites will fund restorations that will 'breathe new life into historic spaces'.

Guide launched to help describe artworks for blind people

25 Sep 2023

A new describing art guide aims to support art galleries and museums to make their collections more accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

The guide was launched by Sight Loss Councils (SLC) and funded by the Thomas Pocklington Trust. It was developed by East Sussex SLC in collaboration with Zoom Arts and Royal Collection Trust.

“Blind and partially sighted people also enjoy accessing art and museums. However, this can often be inaccessible to us,” said Iris, a member of East Sussex SLC and a volunteer.

“This is why we are working alongside arts organisations to make this happen. 

“We hope that our resource will enable staff to better understand how they can describe art with confidence to someone with sight loss and that it’ll break down some of the barriers about communicating with blind and partially sighted people.”

She hopes the guide will encourage galleries and museums to actively promote their ability to offer audio described tours.

Amy Stocker, Access and Inclusion Manager for Royal Collection Trust, said the resource “should make people much more confident when communicating with blind and partially sighted people”.

“Hopefully this means more vision impaired people will have access to art and engaging with arts and culture,” she added.

Trans inclusion guidance for museums is high risk

graphic of different genders
25 Sep 2023

Earlier this month, the University of Leicester published guidance on trans-inclusive practice for museums. Denise Fahmy and Audrey Ludwig say it is, at best, misleading and may be discriminatory.

Derby Museums facing 'existential challenge'

Inside a room in Pickford's House Museum, Derby.
21 Sep 2023

National Portfolio Organisation warns that reductions in public funding combined with rising costs makes its current business model unsustainable.

Conservation costs at National Trust hit record high

21 Sep 2023

The National Trust (NT) has reported spending a record £179m on conserving its historic buildings and collections last year.

In a report published before the NT’s annual general meeting in November, the organisation detailed some of the rising costs it has had to contend with over the past year, including the doubling of its energy bill to £11m. 

Despite the challenging economic landscape in 2022-23, the NT’s workforce increased in contrast to 2020-21, when the closure of its buildings during the pandemic led to the loss of 1,700 jobs.

Last year, the NT funded 13,245 hours of work on delicate historic collections and spent £25.6m on “significant acquisitions”.

The organisation also saw a boost in visitors at pay-for-entry venues. At the same time, membership rose slightly from 5.71m in 2021-22 to 5.73m in 2022-23, with the cost of individual membership increasing by 16.5% to £84 a year.

As well as record spending, the NT received record amounts in bequeathed legacies last year, topping £70m.

Hilary McGrady, the NT’s Director General, said: “The record funds we dedicated in the last financial year reflects the NT’s enduring commitment to the beautiful historic places in its care and the nation’s enthusiasm for this.

“We were able to make this significant investment during a particularly difficult economic environment, with rising costs and continued recovery from the pandemic, thanks to the millions of people who supported our cause.”

Funding for traditional heritage crafts project in Rochdale

19 Sep 2023

A heritage project to explore, celebrate and preserve the heritage crafts of refugee and asylum seeker communities in Rochdale will go ahead after securing funding. 

Cartwheel Arts has been awarded a £92,340 grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to deliver Crafting Heritage in collaboration with Rochdale Borough Council and a network of local partner organisations.

The project expects to delve into traditional heritage crafts such as Ukrainian folk art, Islamic geometric patterns, Arabic calligraphy and textiles including weaving, sewing and embroidery.

Outcomes will be documented and archived at arts and heritage centre Touchstones Rochdale, with a final celebration event planned at the venue in 2025.

As part of the project, Cartwheel Arts will offer a fully paid eight-week training placement for four emerging craftspeople in the area with experience of forced migration.

The trainees will deliver a programme of crafting sessions within local primary schools.

“We are passionate about preserving and disseminating the diverse heritage crafts of Rochdale’s migrant communities and are keen to provide an opportunity for the development and sharing of heritage crafts within local schools,” Helen Featherstone, NLHF Director, England, North said.

“Crafting Heritage not only represents a ground-breaking means of preserving and sharing these rich traditions within local schools but will also forge dynamic partnerships on both local and national fronts to bring this vision to life. 

“We expect this project will leave an enduring and profound mark on all those who join us on this exciting journey.”

AHRC funds research into blind people's experience of art 

19 Sep 2023

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded £250k for research into how blind people experience art in museums and the ways it can be enhanced.

A collaboration between Dr Ken Wilder and Dr Aaron McPeake (University of the Arts London), Dr Clare O’Dowd from the Henry Moore Institute and the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts, the project is the first to be awarded financing from AHRC’s exhibition fund.

The three-year study will feature a research season and public engagement events culminating in a 2025 exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, predominantly featuring works by blind or partially-blind artists and directed by a blind curator.

Working with Shape Arts, the project will also generate the first international database of blind and partially-blind sculptural artists.

Wilder said the project would investigate the role that “touch, sound, smell and proprioception – the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body – play in engaging with sculpture”.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, said: “As audiences and venues change, and as we seek to be more inclusive and bring our culture to everyone, the nature of how we stage and curate exhibitions needs to evolve. 

“This project will unlock fresh ways for different and often overlooked audiences to experience our historical and cultural heritage, ensuring its value can be fully appreciated by many more people, but they will also inform all of our exhibition making.”

Majority of heritage sector yet to utilise AI

Arundel Castle, West Sussex, England as seen from a light aircraft.
18 Sep 2023

Latest Heritage Pulse survey finds almost two thirds of heritage organisations are yet to consider how they might use AI in the future.

Museum closes on safety grounds during 'gender critical' event

People's History Museum, Manchester
13 Sep 2023

Trans rights activists demonstrated outside a museum where a gender critical group was meeting, with police in attendance.

Community is the foundation of culture

Etruria museum
11 Sep 2023

Heritage Open Days returns with thousands of free events and experiences. The National Trust’s Tom Freshwater reflects on why people venture out to participate in these community experiences.

British Museum: From looter to looted

Image of the Benin bronzes
07 Sep 2023

From the perspective of Greece or Nigeria, the word irony hardly does justice to the sad spectacle unfolding at the British Museum, writes Barnaby Phillips

Art Fund awards £1m to boost inclusion in curatorial staff

06 Sep 2023

Art Fund has awarded £1m in grants for museums and galleries to improve inclusion in the workforce.

The funding comprises £800,000, split between 21 museums and galleries, in the latest round of its Reimagine Grants programme.

The charity says it was particularly interested in applications that responded to the findings and recommendations of its 2022 report on diversity in the curatorial workplace and that are aiming to make their organisations more inclusive.

Contemporary Visual Arts Network has been awarded the maximum £50,000 for a project in partnership with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art that will offer a two-year professional development programme supporting artists and arts professionals from marginalised communities.

Other funded projects include volunteering opportunities and employment pathways for disabled and neurodivergent people at Buckinghamshire’s National Paralympic Heritage Centre and an action learning project developing new ways of working with underrepresented communities at Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthenshire.

A total of £7.3m has been awarded in Reimagine Grants since the first round in August 2020.

Art Fund’s £1m grant package also includes a ringfenced £200,000 to be awarded through Museum Development UK (MDUK) to support smaller museums retain and train staff.

MDUK will distribute the funds through a combination of grants and programmes, while investing £100,000 of their own through match funding.

The award giving will have an emphasis on curatorial posts and members of the workforce who work directly with collections including learning, engagement and conservation.

Museum floats homes development plan 'to safeguard future'

05 Sep 2023

A museum in Hampshire has submitted plans to build homes on its site in order to generate income to secure its future.

Bursledon Brickworks Museum, in Swanwick, wants permission for 12 homes to be built on its site which is home to historically significant industrial buildings including a brickmaking kiln, processing sheds, specialised enclosures, engine and machinery houses, along with a café and a museum, The Portsmouth News reports.

"Due to the listed nature of the Brickwork Museum, these buildings require essential repairs and restoration works to safeguard their future as heritage assets," an application put forward by the museum states.

"The Brickwork Museum will require substantial funding to carry these repairs and restoration works.

"The money required will come from a variety of sources but these alone cannot raise the required funds to carry out the works. 

"Therefore, the purpose of developing the land for residential dwellings is to enable the land to be sold to a developer in order to raise significant funds that can enable the works to the listed buildings to take place."

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