Fears for Graves Gallery as arts feel the financial pain

The Graves Gallery is under threat of closure two years after celebrating its 75th birthday
The Graves Gallery is under threat of closure two years after celebrating its 75th birthday

ONLY two years after celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Graves Gallery is under threat of closure as Sheffield City Council announces cuts of 15% to its funding of Museums Sheffield.

It is one of the measures being considered by the trust which also administers the Millennium Gallery, Weston Park Museum and Bishops’ House to meet a reduction of £328,000 in the annual council funding of £2.3m.

Sandra Newton, chair of the trustees, refused to be specific about the options “which were subject to further discussions” with the council.

She pointed out that they did not own the museum and gallery buildings so that decisions on any closures could not be theirs alone.

“But there are only a certain number of things you can do – adjustments in staff, exhibitions, opening hours and buildings – and all the options are difficult, unpalatable and painful,” she said.

The Graves Gallery is on the top floor of the Central Library in Surrey Street and houses art and other treasures bequeathed to the city.

Museums Sheffield is facing a similar squeeze to other council-backed trusts. After Christmas the 121 staff were served with notice that their jobs were at risk. Among them there are 34 posts which are externally funded up to 2012.

“But we are all at risk,” said Kim Streets, director of Learning and Knowledge.

“This is such a big cut that it will affect every aspect of what we do.”

At present the city council provides £2.3m of Museums Sheffield’s overall budget in excess of £3m. Their other significant source of funding, the grant from the Arts Council, will be reduced from this year’s £73,000 to £68,000 in 2011/12 and then the system will change.

Sheffield is bidding to be one of nine ‘core’ centres around the country which will receive preferential funding and prestigious exhibitions.

“One of the things about this is how this plays nationally and what we do in Sheffield affects our application for core status,” said Sandra Newton. “That has to be one of the considerations in the mix.

“There is the choice of immediate gain for Sheffield versus the risk of damaging potential government funding. That is one of the reasons our discussions are ongoing.”

A decision on the proposed cuts and how they will be implemented will have to be determined by the end of March, the end of the financial year.

Meanwhile Sheffield Theatres has been told that it will lose £104,000 of its annual city council funding of £588,000.

Chief executive Dan Bates said: “We have been aware that this would happen and have been in discussion with the council for eight to nine months.

“We would obviously prefer not to have a reduction but we have to recognise our place in the real world and what’s going on and how we can support the city through these difficult times.”

Immediate steps that are being taken include the withdrawal of the annual production touring schools in Sheffield and axeing the scheme in which under-26s can apply for free tickets on certain nights (to be replaced later by a £5 scheme) and “a more strategic programming of the Lyceum,” putting the emphasis on commercial productions and ensuring its programmes complement what was being staged in the Crucible.

No staff redundancies are anticipated at this stage. “We are an efficient organisation and don’t have a huge amount of staff,” he said.

Ironically the cuts were announced the day after the official launch of the city’s cultural strategy under the banner Created and Made in Sheffield, setting out culture priorities for the next 10 years and looking at new initiatives for the next three years.

It follows wide-ranging consultation with creative organisations and individuals from theatres and galleries through to local artists, musicians and jewellers in the wake of Sheffield’s unsuccessful bid for the City of Culture 2013.

The plan includes a commitment to a 10-year plan for the Sheffield Arena and support for the city’s growing creative and digital businesses, as well as increasing tourism and growing events and festivals across the city. The ambitious strategy also includes a promise to take culture to new and unexpected places such as workplaces, the NHS and parks.

More than 70 people attended the event at the Crucible Theatre where they heard a rousing speech by council leader Coun Paul Scriven, with everyone mindful the financial axe was about to fall.