A Museum saved

The following letter by Ray Lawrence indicates one way of fighting against cuts in Arts and Humanities

“Over the last year, many colleagues on this list have been very supportive of the campaign to keep museums open in Canterbury. I would like to up-date you all on how things are progressing.

Basically, the argument was won and the Council recognises that the city’s museums are an asset that the community of Canterbury values. The campaign included: an on-line petition, advocacy by a range of people (from local figures such as the VC right up to politicians seeking election to national government – Jeremy Hunt & Ed Vaizey – remember this was before the general election), a public denunciation at a public event by David Starkey helped, and a public demonstration that filled the street outside the Roman Museum on a Saturday may have concentrated the mind of local politicians. Stakeholders also met with the Council to make the case that Museums were both social and economic assets.

There are currently no plans to close museums in the city. The Council is pursuing ways to increase revenue rather than simple budget cuts. The Museums Libraries and Archives (MLA) undertook a review of the Museums and have made recommendations, via a light-touch-peer review, for the development of these as attractions for all of the community and visitors to the city (sadly the Comprehensive Spending Review has dismantled the MLA). A Heritage Forum composed of key stakeholders (Canterbury Archaeological Trust, the Civic Society, Christchurch University, Canterbury for Culture, and the Cathedral) has been established. We can expect to see this body to develop as a partnership between the stakeholders and the Council, it also brings stakeholders into a closer relationship with each other. 12 months ago, when several museums faced closure, we could not imagine that the Council would change its mind and it was impossible to imagine that within a year – the Council would see the museums as a positive asset. The debate may not be over though – there are local elections in May 2011, and we may see a change of attitude afterwards.

In this period that went from crisis to stability, the issue of museum provision heightened the sense of value of Classical and Archaeological Studies to the University. A large slice of HEIF4 Enterprise money was allocated by the Dean of Humanities to developing the relationship between the University of Kent and Museums in the region. With this funding, we are setting up a Centre for Heritage and Innovation that will connect Classicists to others in the University and beyond in the local Museums’ Service and with other stakeholders. This will provide infrastructure for the delivery of research and ‘impact’ in the future.

The Comprehensive Spending Review is the new threat to local museums in the UK and one that may cause councils to see closure of museums as an easy way to achieve spending targets – the lesson from the last 12 months in Canterbury is that this does not have to be the case. Arguments can be won and entrenched positions can be changed. Importantly, involvement with campaigns to keep museums open can also achieve the aim of making the case for Classics and demonstrating the value of the Humanities in Universities.”

Economic historian and numismatic consultant

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