*this whole story is developing all the time, see the comments at the bottom for the latest*
fairly regular readers of this blog will know that over the summer i moved over the hills from manchester to sheffield. since arriving in sheffield i have been enjoying getting to know a brand new set of museums and galleries, which i have generally been impressed by. yes, everything is on a much smaller scale than those which i used to frequent on a near daily basis whilst studying for my MA whilst in manchester, but i try not to see them as comparable institutions. weston park museum is a very well curated introduction to a city, and includes some really nice flourishes of delivery including the gallery built around snowy the polar bear. in the city centre the millennium gallery has proved a reliable place to head for when i’ve needed to see things to either calm thoughts or spark inspiration – in particular the kid acne exhibition and the ruskin gallery struck me last year.
there is one gallery which i have not yet fully got to grips with, and that is the graves gallery. working in an art gallery means that you sometimes end up completely missing others, especially when they have restricted opening hours. this has been my issue with the graves gallery, which i have seen a total of three rooms in. i was a bit shocked at how much work there was in the gallery when i first stepped in, presuming that their limited opening hours belied a limited collection. instead, i think that they may be the tip of an iceberg which sheffield is unfortunately ploughing straight towards.
last week the arts council announced that, despite a very strong bid, museums sheffield has missed out on £4.2million of funding over the next three years – which represents a cut of at least 30% in funding for the city. reports suggest that this leaves funding for the arts in sheffield at around £4 per head, whereas nearby leeds is sitting pretty with over £20 per person. it is frankly shocking that a city of sheffield’s stature, with an arts scene which seems to be growing around the work of museums sheffield, has been cut adrift.
i can still recall the consternation of the last round of funding cuts when i was working in a manchester arts venue (which was allocated its money), and the issues which were faced by those who missed out. at least one major venue has gone the way of dust as far as i know. sheffield is now facing a situation where the museum service must find ways of meeting an £800,000 shortfall for their current budget, let alone the dark times yet to come. talk is of around 50 jobs going, an end to the expansive exhibitions policy which has seen major national shows exhibited in the city, and potentially worse.
museums sheffield have been very upfront about what this funding decision means for their service. combative posters have appeared across their venues appealing for the people of the city to support them in this dark time, and they have made realistic announcements about what these cuts mean. an end to big name exhibitions, cuts to family engagement, the wrapping up of outreach programmes.
yesterday i attended sheffield council’s public consultation on the budget cuts it is facing itself. the council is losing around £24million of their own budget from central government, and is thus being forced into cuts of around 10% across all its’ services. yet they chose not to apply this to museums sheffield, instead implementing a cash standstill which would support the outstanding arts council bid, and the industrial museums’ hlf bid. so here we are with a council which is willing to draw back on other areas to support the visual arts and heritage, but even that is not enough to see these vital services protected.*
so what next? museums sheffield held discussions with arts council england’s yorkshire team yesterday to discuss the short term issues, and the application of ‘transitional funding’ parachute payments which are being rolled out to those renaissance funded institutions who have missed out on the current round of funding. talks are also ongoing about an appeal to overturn the decision, which whilst i support in principle of the need of these funds in the city, you have to wonder how the arts council could begin to find the money to offer sheffield any form of funding? remove it from services who were successful in the initial bidding process?
i am hopeful that a solution can be found, whether via an appeal process or through a succesful application by museums sheffield for the arts council’s renaissance strategic support fund. either way, action is going to be needed from the people of sheffield to show their support for their arts institutions. now is the time to make use of those politicians who you put in power, be it at local or national level. make a noise about how important these museums and galleries are to the city, to you personally, and to the lives of those who need them most. contact you mp. write to your councillor. go direct to the arts council.
most of all, get to the museums and galleries. you know those gift aid envelopes you normally walk past? use them. that family birthday coming up – get them something from the gallery shop. sheffield, support your cultural institutions now, whilst you still can.
*it must be noted that sheffield theatres and site gallery have both seen their funding cut in line with sheffield council’s budget cuts.