MPs fear ‘closure by stealth’ plan for Bradford museum

Bradford's National Media Museum.
Bradford's National Media Museum.
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A SERIES of controversial decisions has fuelled mounting fears of a London-driven agenda to see Bradford’s National Media Museum shut by stealth.

Speculation has grown this week after the attraction’s owners, the Science Museum Group, announced that it would be transferring around 400,000 objects in the group’s collection of photographs from the National Media Museum, to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

I remain extremely concerned that the recent announcements amount to the stealth closure of the National Media Museum as we know and love it.

Judith Cummins, Labour Party MP for Bradford South

Group bosses said their intention is to create “the world’s foremost single collection on the art of photography” at the V&A, while the National Media Museum adopts a new focus on “the science and technology of light and sound”.

The decision was labelled as an “appalling act of cultural vandalism” by Bradford Council’s Tory Party leader, Simon Cooke.

The move has merely aggravated closure theories, on the back of two other recent developments; the decision to scrap Bradford’s International Film Festival after a review of the museum’s activities, and suggestions the venue’s name could be changed by its London-based owners.

To demand clear answers over the museum’s future, Bradford MPs Judith Cummins and Imran Hussain, and Councillor Mohammad Shabbir on behalf of Naz Shah MP, met museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch for talks at the museum yesterday.

Despite being given reassurances during the discussions, Labour MP for Bradford South, Ms Cummins told of her lingering concerns afterwards and vowed to meet Science Museum Group director Ian Blatchford at the end of February to demand further answers and assurances.

“There has been a complete lack of transparency and consultation both with local MPs and the Bradford community at large,” she said. “I remain extremely concerned that the recent announcements amount to the stealth closure of the National Media Museum as we know and love it.

“I was shocked to learn that the decision to transfer the world renowned Royal Photographic Society collection, the abandoning of the International Film Festival and the move to rename the museum were all made over two hundred miles away in London. Not a single person on the Board of Trustees have links to Bradford, or indeed the wider region.

“We cannot have decisions about our city and our region being made by the ‘great and the good’ in London.

“I’m determined to fight for the future of the National Media Museum and preserve our rich heritage for future generations. Our museum must remain a national museum and a beacon for culture in the North.”

Ms Quinton-Tulloch described the meetings as a “useful and frank” discussion, and in a statement afterwards she said: “It was very helpful to hear and understand some of their concerns, to restate that there is absolutely no question of the Museum closing, and to have the opportunity to lay out the rationale for some of the changes and future developments that we have proposed.

“I will be responding to some of their specific questions in greater detail in the very near future.”

The Science Museum Group, reaffirmed that the museum’s future was not at risk.

The Yorkshire Post asked Group officials whether it was completely committed to the National Media Museum continuing to operate in Bradford, and Peter Dickinson, its head of communications, said: “The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. The Science Museum Group is enormously supportive and is investing in plans for the museum.

“We are really positive about playing a role in the life of the nation and we are proud of the fact that we have major museums across the country.

“This is a museum with a really bright future and a really clear direction and we are 100 per cent committed to it.”

MP DEMANDS INVESTIGATION

Bradford West’s Labour MP, Naz Shah, has written to Jesse Norman MP, chairman of the Department of Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee, to call for an investigation into the decision to relocate the photography archive to London.

She said she wanted assurances that a consultation will take place before Bradford loses the collection - a “national treasure” - and that she was concerned it will impact on the city’s UNESCO City of Film status.

“This decision has been taken with no consultation I am aware of and is a fundamental shift in what the museum is supposed to be,” she said.

“The loss of these images in Bradford is not just a loss to the city, but marks a fundamental turning point in what the museum is supposed to be. It was always intended and set up to be the national photography museum, one that studied and displayed the art and science of photography.

“Without doubt the museum has had its challenges over the last few years, but was at one point a world renowned, and celebrated museum of photography. It was the standard, not just of how a museum can survive out of the capital, but also how a museum can be successful.

“I have grave concerns about the direction the museum is taking. By losing the specialism that has made it unique, can only put more pressure on its continued success.”

She said she was led to believe that the V&A had turned down this collection in the past.

“The collection belongs in Bradford and belongs at an institution that was set-up and funded to specialize in photography.

“I will also be urging the minister Ed Vaizey to intervene and keep his commitment to protect the museum. Otherwise I fear a backdoor closure of the Museum and our cultural landscape.”