Cash-strapped museums turn to locals to champion cause

April 17, 1998

THE POWERFUL and vocal support mustered by London museums for extra public funding is having an adverse effect on regional museums whose plight is being largely ignored.

In a letter to the Museums and Galleries Commission, Richard Foster, director of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, said that cries of crisis in regional museums were "largely drowned out by the clamour of comparatively well-off national museums in London arguing their own case for the retention of free admission and/or an increase in grant-in-aid".

He said London museum claims were justified "but unless the interests of regional museums are championed we will drift into an even more unhealthy discrepancy between the 'haves' of London and the '`have lesses' of the regions."

A national strategy was needed that recognised that "flagships without a fleet are themselves dangerously exposed".

Mr Foster has just been appointed troubleshooter for Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Teesdale. The museum is threatened with a yearly five-month closure to save money and also the sale of parts of its collection. Mr Foster will conduct an inquiry in May and June.

The Bowes Museum was awarded designated status by the MGC last year in recognition of its pre-eminent collections of fine and decorative arts.

Timothy Mason, director of the MGC, said: "Selling items from this fine collection would be highly regrettable. The Bowes's great strength is its outstanding collections and disposing of any items would damage the integrity of the whole museum and indeed its designated status."

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