Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Reprieve for Stoke Museums

But What Does the Future Hold?

Visitors to the Potteries Museum will welcome the news that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has postponed the introduction of admission fees to the home of the Staffordshire Hoard. Since February £7,500 has been received in donations from the public prompting the council to delay the introduction of the controversial charge until after the summer.

Announcing the decision cabinet member for economic development Mark Meredith said "We have been receiving donations, although at a level that is slightly below what we were  hoping for, but we are approaching our busiest time at the museum. We are therefore looking at extending the donation period to see if donations maintain their success with a view to continuing with our preferred option of keeping the museum's admission free."

This is good news as is the report that the campaign to save Etruria Industrial Museum, symbolized by 9 year old Jack Fowler-Evans, has been given more time to explore the possibility of creating a body to run the important heritage site. Speaking on this subject Councillor Meredith said it was "inconceivable" that the museum could close. So what happens next?

Well, as we have heard from the former elected mayor, the council's "preferred option" is to continue with the policy of free admission at the Potteries Museum and he personally considers it "inconceivable"  that we could lose an asset such as Etruria. This will be reassuring to many people but what trust should we place in the words of a man whose political journey led him from the Militant Tendency to the leadership of a bizarre coalition that brought only deadlock when the city needed direction?

Compare his statements from 2007, when announcing ambitious plans for city centre regeneration, with those of last week when the council embarrasingly scaled down the proposals to little more than a 60 minute makeover. Given these facts, along with the flip-flops during  his period in office, it should come as no surprise that questions are already being raised about the long-term feasabilty of the council's commitment.

Martin Tideswell, writing in the Sentinel believes the postponement of admission fees is only delaying the inevitable and goes on to argue that cultural attractions need to market themselves more successfully. While I'm not sure about  his suggestion that the Potteries Museum should celebrate the achievements of the likes of Robbie Williams and Phil 'The Power' Taylor  there is some merit in his thinking given the wealth of heritage in the city that is often overlooked.

These are difficult times and the coming months will prove crucial in determining the city's relationship with its  cultural assets. Yes we need to look at how we promote ourselves and see if this can't be improved but at the same time we must remind those in elected office that the city's heritage belongs to us and must be preserved for youngsters like Jack Fowler-Evans to pass on to the next generation. Are you listening Comrade Meredith?

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