Wednesday, 2 May 2007

So melt down all the ornaments

And the story rumbles on : I'm conflicted about Waltham Forest Council's decision to reduce opening hours at it's two main museums. I suspect it's a done deal, but I'd like to believe that it's not.

The Vestry House Museum is a traditional local museum - lots of local history and local knowledge - housed in a sixteenth century poor-house. The William Morris Gallery is housed in one of Morris's family homes, and holds internationally renowned collections of Morris's work.

Both of these are great things.

Neither of them are being closed / sold off / sacked by visigoths.

( Possibly I'm just having an allergic reaction to the tone of some of their supporters. Their website is - just the URL is loaded. )

The council isn't talking about closing them - it's talking about changing the opening hours, partly to save money, partly to extend weekend opening hours in response to resident demand. (OK, so the council aren't linking readily to any evidence of that residents demand, but assuming that they're not just pulling that idea out of thin air ...)

I used to live in Walthamstow, and every time I made it to the William Morris Gallery (which is fantastic) it was on one of it's once-a-month Sunday openings, and because the Vestry House Museum isn't open on Sundays, I never actually visited it. Having them open every Sunday would have improved access for me. In general, more museums and galleries open at weekends is a good thing in my book.

Shifting the museum's 'opening week' to Wednesday though Thursday would be an unabashed good thing. Using weekend opening to distract from cutting hours in total, less so.

The bullet point that most caught my eye on the Friend's site was Education programmes will be taken to the schools rather than inviting schools to the Museums.. And WFC's response flat our contradicts this. We will be actively encouraging schools to make better use of both centres – and will open our doors to them during the week for pre-arranged visits. From a teaching perspective, having exclusive access to a whole museum with a curator-lead education program is also a good thing. If it happens.

But the council's plans are worrying - don't get me wrong - the shift to part time hours is obviously going to affect the staff, and their knowledgebase, their passion, are resources as much as the artefacts of the museum. It's also going to make life more difficult for serious researchers, and it's predicated on the assumption that most of the people most of the time a) work, and b) work in Monday-to-Friday jobs, and I'm not sure that's a truth which can be universally acknowledged.

It's difficult to argue that the day-to-day needs of the residents shouldn't take priority over 'luxuries' like museums, but just by setting the question in those terms WFC are sliding a set of assumptions into the debate which I'm not sure I agree with - that history and art and local roots are luxuries. (Well - they're not Maslow basics, agreed, but I'd argue they meet needs in the second tier...)

They're holding a procession/protest on Saturday, in celebration/support of Vestry House. That might just be a thing to go join in with.

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1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

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Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog