Museums appeal to avoid ‘devastating’ cutbacks

Crowds watching a dragon dance during the Chinese New Year celebrations at Weston Park Museum last weekend
Crowds watching a dragon dance during the Chinese New Year celebrations at Weston Park Museum last weekend

MUSEUMS Sheffield was reeling this week after the city was excluded from a list of major centres of excellence among galleries and museums around the country to receive special funding by Arts Council England.

After its bid for £1.4m per year for the next three years from ACE’s Renaissance Major Grants programme failed, the already financially troubled Museums Sheffield is faced with managing a 30% reduction in its overall budget from April 1.

It will result in around 45 redundancies out of just over 100 staff at present, the end of major exhibitions, fewer facilities at the Millennium Gallery, the Graves Gallery and Weston Park museum, reduced educational activity for schools and adults in Sheffield and the loss of Sheffield’s regional museum status built up over the past 13 years

“This is bitterly disappointing news,” said Nick Dodd, chief executive of Museums Sheffield. The new funding scheme replaces the Renaissance in the Regions scheme which Sheffield has been a part of for the past eight years.

“We know we put together a compelling case for continued funding under the new Arts Council grants programme, which met all the published criteria. This decision will have a devastating impact and leaves Sheffield, South Yorkshire and the East Midlands grossly under-funded by the Arts Council in comparison with other parts of the country.

“We fully intend to appeal and will be questioning the Arts Council’s strategic and geographical distribution of this public money.”

Sandra Newton, Museums Sheffield’s chair of trustees, said the city – which made the shortlist to be the UK City of Culture in 2013 – was shocked to find itself outside the 16 major partners of ACE who had judged their bid “as strong and outstanding.”

“We were also surprised because of the historically low level of arts funding per head of population in Sheffield – five times lower than Leeds, for example.” Leeds and York were the successful Yorkshire applicants.

She pointed out that the £1m funding was not an extra but was needed to replace the current £800,000 a year funding which expires in March. “That leaves us with a double whammy and that’s why the figure is 30%.

“We will have to begin the process of redundancies. It will be predominantly people behind the scenes, those involved in fundraising, commissioning, designing and setting up exhibitions and in marketing and retail services.

“The people we will keep are those needed to keep the venues open which we are very clear, supported by the council, that all three should remain open.

“What people will see inside those venues is a reduction in programme – no more exhibitions of national standard or the education work we are rightly proud of. We will become a minor second-class museum in England’s fourth largest city.

“If we cannot get any response from the Arts Council it will spiral down. There is no way back because we won’t have a team to put a bid in next time round.”

Apart from appealing, the only option is to apply for one year’s transitional funding available to unsuccessful applicants

Museums Sheffield were in talks this week with the council which provides their principal funding of £2m.

Council leader Julie Dore said: “This is a huge disappointment for the city and Museums Sheffield. We know Sheffield had a very strong bid and should have been recognised for its cultural offer.

“I want to know why we were not successful and how we compared to others. We want to stand up for Sheffield, support the appeal and will await the decision with interest.”

Lib Dem leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed said: “We had hoped that the council would have a Plan B ready to put into action in case this happened. However, it seems that there is a lot of uncertainty.

“We now need some real leadership at the top to ensure that Sheffield’s museums and galleries continue to deliver world-class exhibitions despite this setback.”