Minister won't step in to help Bradford museum

Curator Kate Burnatt in the photo archive of the National Media Museum in Bradford

Curator Kate Burnatt in the photo archive of the National Media Museum in Bradford

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CULTURE Minister John Whitingdale will not stand in the way of a decision to transfer a valuable photography collection from West Yorkshire to London.

The Secretary of State for Culture said he is reluctant to ‘micro-manage’ the trustees of Bradford’s National Media Museum who will move 270,000 images belonging to the Royal Photography Society to the Victoria and Albert Museum this summer.

The Science Museum Group Chairman, Dame Mary Archer, said the Bradford museum will now focus instead on light and technology, see a name change in 2017, and have £7.5m spent on it as part of a major revamp.

However critics, including Bradford South MP Judith Cummins, have said the facility was set up specifically as a national museum in 1983 in an attempt to move collections beyond the capital, and should not be downgraded.

A letter published in the Guardian newspaper at the weekend from leading British artists David Hockney and playwright Mike Leigh also criticised the decision as an act of ‘cultural vandalism’.

However Mr Whitingdale, who also sat on the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for a decade, said the decision needed to be raised by those concerned with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

He also angered Ms Cummins by referring to the museum as a ‘satellite’, proof she believes that the facility is already being viewed as second rate by Government.

Mr Whitingdale said: “There is a general principle that too much of our arts and museums go to London and this is one which I have expressed concern about in my previous capacity.

“It is the case that some of the greatest institutions in the world are in London...the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate, V&A ...they are enormously beneficial...

“I have said to all of them [and] the Arts Council they should try and increase the proportion of grants they give outside of London.

“And also the national museums that we partner should seek to wherever possible support satellites like the National Media Museum in Bradford and the equivalent of the Tate and the equivalent of the National War Museum, almost all of them have links to regional museums and I’m keen there should be more.”

He said there were reasons why the Royal Photography Society collection was felt to be best placed in London and ruled out intervening in the decision.

He said: “I’m very reluctant to micro-manage but obviously the general principle that Government support for culture and the arts needs to be seen to be spread across the whole of the country and not concentrated in London is one I very much believe in.”

However Ms Cummins said: “My concern all along has been that this is a closure by stealth and downgrading.

“On the entire board that made the decision, only one person is from the North, and they’re from the North East, not West Yorkshire. It’s a decision that’s made by an elite in London.

"This museum was set up as a national museum in its own right and I hope the minister has misunderstood when he called it a ‘satellite’, and that it’s not evidence they’ve already downgraded it to a satellite basis.”

Among the pictures moving to the V&A are works by British pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot, who produced the world’s first negative .

Bradford's National Media Museum.

Bradford's National Media Museum.

Ms Cummins is due to meet with culture secretary Ed Vaizey today to argue the case that the collection remains in Bradford.

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