Museums feel the squeeze

Curator of visual art Lisa Beauchamp with one of the series of ornate 16th century prints chronicling the life of the Holy Roman emperor, Maximilian I  at Graves.
Curator of visual art Lisa Beauchamp with one of the series of ornate 16th century prints chronicling the life of the Holy Roman emperor, Maximilian I at Graves.

REDUCED opening hours and the loss of up to 13 jobs have been announced by Museums Sheffield as a consequence of city council funding cuts.

The threatened closure of the Graves Gallery has been avoided but from the beginning of May it will only be open for three days a week instead of the current six.

Since February, when the council announced it was slashing £328,000, or 16%, from Museums Sheffield’s 2011-12 budget, the charitable trust has been in discussion with council leaders and negotiated a reduction to £279,000, or 12%.

Opening hours will be reduced each day at the Millennium Gallery and Weston Park, along with the more drastic cuts at the Graves Gallery, reductions to the exhibition programming and marketing budgets, and Bishops’ House at Meersbrook Park reverting to council control.

Nick Dodd, chief executive of Museums Sheffield, said: “Museums Sheffield and the council have agreed a plan that keeps all the museums and galleries open. We have achieved this by removing the opening hours from the beginning and the end of the day when we have fewest visits.

“We will still provide full opening for schools and when the public most want to visit on half terms and bank holidays. We hope that this will be a temporary measure reversible when the economic climate eases.

“Sadly, because the opening hours are declining, we are looking at a number of posts being made redundant. We know that this will be felt particularly deeply amongst our close-knit team and we would like to thank all our colleagues for their tremendous contribution to our work.

“Looking to the future, we hope that in the autumn Museums Sheffield will be able to bid for additional national funds in recognition of its importance as a core museum within England and particularly in the city and region”.

Attention will be given to developing a long-term vision for the city’s galleries and museums, particularly the redevelopment of the Central Library and Graves Gallery building, by working with other key organisations in the city and drawing on local, regional and national funding initiatives.

Revised opening hours from May 2 at the Millennium Gallery will be 10am to 4pm each day (exhibitions opening at 11am) instead of 10am to 5pm and at Weston Park Museum on Mondays to Fridays, 10am to 3pm, and weekends, 11am to 4pm, which also means losing an hour at the end of the day. Extra hours will be added on half terms and Bank Holidays.

The option of closing venues for complete days was resisted by Museums Sheffield management, concerned by the potential of a “churn” effect.

“If you are open seven days a week visitors don’t have to think about whether it’s open or not which is important for those travelling a distance,” said Eric Hildrew, head of marketing and communications.

“The cost saving is neutral – heating stays the same, staffing reduction is marginal – and the impact on the retail side, the shops and cafes, is significant.”

The Graves Gallery (which currently accounts for 5% of Museums Sheffield footfall) will, however, only open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm and Saturdays, 11am to 3pm which is a reduction of three hours each day.

Bishops’ House will be open on weekdays for pre-booked groups only and the council is in discussions with a local community group to safeguard weekend opening on a predominantly voluntary basis.

Between nine and 13 posts within Museums Sheffield’s staff team will be made redundant. Consultation is continuing over the reductions across all functions within the museums and will include managerial positions.