Museum F(r)ee

In my post of April 3rd 2011, Culture Costs, I noted the approval of admission charges for Birmingham's museums but the exemption of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG).

City Council Cabinet members now seem unable to guarantee free entry as they seek to create a new charitable trust to run the BMAG and it's museums (Aston Hall, Soho House, Weoley Castle, Blakesley Hall, Museum of the Jewellery
Quarter, Sarehole Mill and the Museums Collection Centre) and the Millennium Point Thinktank science museum. While the council will own the sites and exhbitis the directors of the new charitable trust would run the buildings with the charitable trust status allowing the museums to take advantage of tax breaks for charities and seek funding from sources not available to local authorities.

Martin Mullaney, the cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said: “We all agree we want to retain free entry. But we don’t know how the finances of Birmingham and the country will be in the next 10 or 20 years.”

The question of charges should be “left open”, Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) added.

The council’s Museums and Heritage Service and Thinktank have to save almost £3 million by 2014 as a contribution to Government spending cuts.

By establishing a charitable trust the council expects to save about £320,000 a year in business rates on its museums buildings.

The question of free entry is however crucial to the status of the museum and it's collections. As I noted in my previous post, many items are lent to the museum for display to the public on condition of free entry. Any threat to the status of the museum and it's collections would therefore undermine the other aim of the charitable trust at creating an improved international reputation.

The business case summary notes that the BMAG:

Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (BMAG) is one of the largest local authority services in the UK. The nationally recognised (Designated) collections include world class fine art, applied art, ethnography, science, technology, archaeology and local history. The service received over 890,000 visits last year and has increased visitors by 40% over the last five years by radically improving the attractiveness of its exhibition programme. Annually, 3 million people worldwide have the opportunity to view Birmingham’s collections. The service was recently listed in The Art Newspaper’s league table of the greatest and the busiest museums in the world, underlining the service’s global reputation alongside the Louvre, the Guggenheim, the British Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was also the first UK local authority Museums Service to achieve the government’s Customer Service Excellence Award.

BMAG is currently sixty eighth in the top art museums in the world measured by visitor numbers. Under joint operation the combined museum has potential to attract over 1million visitors and break into the top forty.

Collectively the BMAG and Thinktank attract over 1 million visits annually and both have significant international reputations. Combining the two museums will improve Birmingham’s position on the league table of busiest and best museums in the world.

Future plans may well include adding the new Library of Birmingham into the Trust with it's own trust linked to it's opening in 2013 at this stage precluding it being part of the creation of the museums trust. The approval of the full business case and implementation by parties concerned with the trust's creation will see it begin operating in April 2012.

The importance of getting the Trust set up and ensuring the BMAG remains free to enter must be a priority if the museum is to encourage more visitors to the museum and increase it's global reputation. New galleries on Birmingham's history and the Staffordshire Hoard should encourage more visitors and it is important that visitors can see these collections for free.

The Staffordshire Hoard has already garnered worldwide attention in the museum and it's collections with BMAG close to sealing a deal to send a selection of the 3,500 pieces of gold to Washington DC where interest is also high,

Birmingham will be the first UK muesum to host the Royal Collection's exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings from January 13 to March 25 2012 as part of celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Rarely seen Leonardo da Vinci drawings to go on display in Birmingham.


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