Following a long wave on cuts to culture, events and arts funding since austerity started, Stoke on Trent City Council has proposed yet another set of cuts. This time to hugely reduce the museum offering in Stoke on Trent.
Both the Gladstone Museum and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery are run as individual organisations by the council, each with their own specialism.
However, this plan, described a ‘rescue plan’ by Stoke on Trent Leader Abi Brown is proposed to permanently delete 13 posts, three of which are currently vacant, and reduce the opening times of both venues. This includes a permanent five month annual closure over the winter period for Gladstone.
Councillor Abi Brown claims that footfall is not high enough in the Winter and hopes a yet undisclosed deal with a TV company will bring extra footfall during the summer months seemingly not believing the culture and history of the area is enough to attract enough tourists.
Despite there being a closure of a museum for much of the year, in response to a question asking whether people who signed the petition called ‘Keep Stoke on Trent’s Pottery Museums Open Every Day’
were wasting their time Brown replied, ‘yes’.
The news from Stoke conflicts other areas of the country where tourist attractions are increasing rather than decreasing their winter offering to support critical and growing tourism footfall over the winter months. Blackpool has confirmed it will again extend the period of time the Blackpool Illuminations are on, the Shakespeare Trust has similarly opened all year around with the exception of a limited number of weeks to allow conservation work. This was in direct response to feedback and a growing demand.
It would appear, rather than invest and work out why footfall is so low over winter Stoke on Trent City Council has decided to go down the easy way out and impose austerity like budgets onto what should be the gems of the city.
The council argues that closing the museum for five months will allow it to be used for TV shows, enticing more visitors. While it’s undeniable TV may entice need visitors, other similar public spaces do not close to the public for such a considerable length of time and reap those benefits. An example of this being the Black Country Living Museum which opens all year long despite filming Peaky Blinders and the well used National History Museum, which either allows filming to take place while the museum is open or during night time closures.
Filming in open locations is not something rare, indeed Tom Cruise was recently waving to onlookers at a busy Birmingham New Street station while filming the latest Mission Impossible.
Filming aside, it’s important to highlight that these are publicly funded spaces that must be accessible by the public to help the local community to understand and learn from the heritage of the city.
Brown promises that culture and the arts is not a low priority of the city, reflecting on the now four year old failed bid to become 2021 city of culture and mentions Stoke being a priority of the Arts Council. It is important to stress that former Arts Council Chief Sir Peter Bazalgette said in 2016 ‘the Arts Council cannot replace all of the funding lost from Local Authorities’. He highlighted that the time that Museums were bearing the brunt of cuts.
With a reduction in staffing, a merging of resources and and a reduction in hours, it is clear the offering available to both local communities and outside tourism will be far lesser in Stoke than it would have been without these damaging inward looking, short sighted cuts.
What’s more, Stoke on Trent City Council is broadcasting a message that Stoke is closed to tourism during the winter months. If the local council thinks that, it’s challenging to understand why private companies would decide otherwise and will take their money elsewhere.