The thing about the recent National Media
Museum announcements is that they are as
much about Bradford as are they are about the
large white building with the glass front opposite
Three extremely worrying announcements followed in
quick succession last week. First the move of just under
half a million pieces from the photography collection to go
to the V&A in London. Then the news that it is pulling out
of the Bradford International Film Festival.
The final being that a name change may be in the offing with Science Museum North on the table.
A move to STEM…..
These decisions, we are told by the Museum Management are in line with a strategic decision to become more science based and to concentrate on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths. Some might say that figures – the management of the National Media Museum is the London based Science Museum Group – previously called the Museums of Science and Industry.
That’s the story being discussed. But of course there is far more to it that these facts. This is something I know a lot about.
Prior to moving into broadcasting I had over 20 years working at a senior level in regeneration and local strategic development, with considerable experience of directing and designing organisational and strategic re-positioning and restructure. As well as living and volunteering in Bradford for many years, I’ve worked for Bradford Council. My last full time job was as the founding Director of Bradford’s status as the first UNESCO City of Film, an initiative which was as much about the regeneration of Bradford as it was about film. I was based on the top floor of the Media Museum. So I have a great insight into the various aspects of these decisions. And I have to say I am extremely worried by all the announcements.
Its actually about Bradford as a whole …..
The Museum and the Science Group has defended all the announcements saying that in a time of reduced budgets the changes are necessary to safeguard the future of the Museum. Meanwhile, politicians in Bradford from across the political spectrum are up in arms; the leader of the Conservative Group has gone as far as to call it ‘cultural rape’. I totally understand why there is cross party consensus on this. You see, these 3 decisions are actually as much about Bradford as a whole as they are about the Museum. They could impact on the district’s international City of Film Status. They will impact on tourism to the city. The impact of losing a ‘National’ body for a city like Bradford is colossal. Mostly, it impacts on the whole future strategy, identity and direction for the city. Because for Bradford, culture (including curry) is not just a side issue, it goes to the heart of the city and its identity. Indeed, culture is a key part of the city overall, and it could be the main driving force behind future regeneration plans. Objections to changes at the National Media Museum are not about a small group of culture lovers complaining about losing a place they go to. A Bradford without the NNM is a very different Bradford.
This is seemingly the most important thing that the senior managers of the Science Group, based in London do not seem to have understood. Maybe that is why they haven’t, from all accounts, been having city wide conversations about all these plans over the last couple of years. From what we hear, discussion about the learning offer of the museum concentrating on STEM subjects was held, but not city wide discussions about the full implications of the changes. When the Museum Director post was restructured a few years ago to be far more under the London management of the Science Group it was clear to me this would be the impact – people down south making decisions in theory, without understanding the local context and possibly without understanding the level of importance of the museum to Bradford.
But this isn't just about the Science Museum Group. The responsibility for ensuring that both on a day and day level, and strategically the Museum sees itself as part of Bradford, and not just a body that happens to be based there, also lies with Bradford. The district’s key players and strategic bodies need to really ask themselves if they have played their part in making sure these discussions happened over recent years.
The irony is, of course, that if they had had these conversations there is a good chance they might have bought those same politicians with them.
A Northern Powerhouse?......
You cannot separate what is happening at NMM from the Northern Powerhouse debate. Many have seen the proposed transfer of cultural gems from the North to London as more evidence that the Northern Powerhouse is not delivering in reality. They argue that if there was equity, the funding to digitise the photos that will be moving south should have come to the Media Museum to do that work, rather than giving it to the V&A. Does only London deserve art some have been asking. You can understand anger and scepticism when early February saw yet another report looking at national distribution of arts funding, showing that London receives twice as much arts funding as the rest of England combined.
And of course there is the fact that as a Non Departmental Public Body - basically a government agency - the Science Museum Group is a national body, not just a London one. It is accountable to Ministers and receives huge amounts of national government funding. It has a responsibility to the whole country.
Bradford’s future strategy……
When I was Director of City of Film I went to a networking event. I was sitting with the Director of Regeneration for another local authority. He said to me that everyone else knew, it was so obvious, that Bradford should put culture (and curry) at the heart of its future development strategies. A no brainer.
I have always felt this, but was constantly frustrated during my time at City of Film that there wasn’t, in my view, the bravery or clarity of vision to really do this. Setting clear strategic priorities for an area creates change. It is not just about a nice document or slogan, rather it directs spending and influences what public sector organisations do. It informs decisions across the board and across sectors. It impacts on the strategy and direction of its partners. These unilateral Museum decisions stem directly from that lack of clarity about the place of culture in overall city development and strategy.
Ever the optimist, I’d like to think that maybe this week can act as a catalyst for both the Science Museum Group, politicians and the other key players in Bradford to re-start those high level conversations about the Museum, culture and film in the city and their place in a vision for Bradford.
I've got a real passion for how we live and what makes the world go round - from politics to backpacking and much in between.
So here are some of my musings, thoughts and observations....
8th Feb 2016