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Heavy-duty museum issues

Pauline McLean | 19:56 UK time, Monday, 16 February 2009

Whether he's the seventh culture minister - or the ninth - (two of them existing simultaneously at cabinet and junior minister level, hence the confusion) the latest incumbent is going to have his work cut out.

While Mike Russell faces hundreds of representatives from arts organisations in a specially arranged meeting at the Traverse Theatre on Wednesday, talks continue behind the scenes to try and secure funding for the Scottish Mining Museum.

A third of the museum's funding disappeared in one fell swoop with the news that Historic Scotland and Midlothian Council were withdrawing their contributions from this year onwards.

Midlothian Council - which has funded the museum for the past 13 years - argues that if the Scottish Mining Museum is truly a national museum then the Scottish Government ought to be responsible for its funding.

It'll be a familiar argument to Mr Russell, who when this issue last reared its ugly head, was shadow culture minister. The then Labour administration felt it had resolved the problem by giving all three major industrial museums - the mining museum, the fisheries museum in Anstruther and the three pronged maritime museum - national status as well as access to a pot of emergency funding.

What it didn't resolve was the long term needs of the museums when it comes to funding.

"They've been living hand to mouth since then," says Dr Jim Arnold, the chairman of the Association of Independent Industrial Museums and Heritage Sites in Scotland.

"Although we have national status and in New Lanark's case, world heritage status, the funding has not followed and that guarantees periodic crises - you can't get out of that and every major industrial site has that pattern."

The size and scale of the sites and the artefacts they look after means visitor numbers and income rarely match the cost of upkeep.

At the Scottish Mining Museum in Newtongrange, they're trying to secure an additional £2.5m of capital funding to restore and repair a number of A-listed buildings on their site. And without the guarantee of secure revenue funding, they have little hope of securing lottery money.

So what can they do? they could follow the examples of other mining museums in England and Wales, who've argued for central government funding along with their national status. Or they could consider establishing an independent trust, no easy matter in the current climate.

The museum's director Fergus Waters was typically upbeat when he spoke to me earlier. But there's no doubt time is running out, with the end of the financial year just weeks away, and no solution in sight.


  • Comment number 1.

    There's no doubt, there are some ugly choices coming down the pipe. We cannot save everything. Every factory cannot become a 'living museum'. But Newtongrange is the coalmining industry's jewel in the crown as far as heritage goes. National government has to step in and support this place

  • Comment number 2.

    Finance is where "the rubber hits the road" for any organisation or business.

    In these times of what should be extreme financial stringency, if a museum cannot pay it's way then it should be closed or mothballed.

    This would seem to be the case with the Mining Museum, where Midlothian Council for example have withdrawn financial support. Presumably they have weighed the money the museum attracts to the area against their annual support costs, and the balance has been found wanting.

    Any new minister must stress that this is the year 2009. It is not a boom year, and any additional spending on "culture" at this time has to be fully offset against savings elsewhere.


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