Council helping hand in museums campaign

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AS a campaign gathered pace to persuade Arts Council England to reverse its decision to exclude Sheffield from major funding for galleries and museums, the city council pledged to maintain its £2m support for Museums Sheffield for another year.

This was the figure promised on condition Museums Sheffield was successful in its bid for £1.4m for the next three years from ACE’s Renaissance Major Grants programme and the shock rejection has thrown the council’s level of support in doubt.

As politicians, prominent artists and members of the public joined a local chorus of protest, representatives of Museums Sheffield, which runs the Millennium Gallery, Graves Gallery and Weston Park Museum met Arts Council Yorkshire to discuss other avenues of funding.

ACE is offering transitional funding to unsuccessful bidders but that would only cover laying off staff and winding down activity. The strategic funding Museums Sheffield may be able to apply for later in the year is of a much smaller scale than the major grant funding and hardly equates to the scale of Sheffield’s ambitions.

The major effect will be around 45 redundancies out of just over 100 staff at present, the end of major exhibitions and reduced educational activity.

The board of voluntary trustees met on Tuesday night and instructed the trust “to collect the necessary information to mount an appeal” in line with established procedure.

At the same time, faced with the 30% budget reduction taking effect from April 1 (when its existing £800,000 Arts Council funding expires), they put in motion a programme of redundancies affecting every level of the organisation. Staff were told that 45 posts were likely to go and negotiations will take place over the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, speculation continues as to why Sheffield failed to be included in the elite group of 16 galleries and museums organisations around the country selected for the £20m Renaissance programme.

Museum Sheffield’s analysis of the feedback from Arts Council England is that Sheffield’s bid was marked down solely on grounds of a “core budget weakness” undermining its “resilience”, and bringing in to doubt its ability to deliver on the other criteria it laid down, sustainability and innovation.

They have interpreted this as being a reflection on the level of funding Sheffield receives from other sources, in particular the city council.

They would argue that the very fact that they have worked within limited means for so long has demonstrated ‘resilience’ in its literal definition.

At a time when the city council has been tasked with passing on £57m of savings from central government, they offered to maintain Museums Sheffield’s funding at current levels for the next three years – the clearest possible commitment they could give to sustainability.

A further clue is seen in Arts Council England’s pledge to address the historical variation in funding of the arts in different regions. Why therefore was it considered acceptable to actually increase the divide by withdrawing funding from a successful organisation in an under-funded region?

But from the perspective of London, Sheffield is part of Yorkshire and, having decided to only allow two bids from each region, Leeds and York were preferred.

Cluny Macpherson, Arts Council England’s regional director for Yorkshire, even said it was Sheffield’s misfortune to be part of Yorkshire in this instance.