Iain Watson is the director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and a Museums Association board member

The policy column

Iain Watson, Issue 116/02, p17, 01.02.2016
Cultural poverty is a real danger
We blithely talk about how this generation is the first to be poorer than its parents. When we do this, we are talking about comparative economic poverty – this younger generation (born from, perhaps, 1980 onwards) will find it harder to get on the housing ladder and will not have access to the pensions that benefited many baby boomers. They also will not have access to the wide range of benefits provided by the welfare state from the 1950s to the 1970s.

However, what about spiritual and emotional poverty? Unless we take action now, subsequent generations will suffer real cultural poverty. This is because there is an increasing risk that many provincial towns and cities will be bereft of the museums that have provided education, entertainment, inclusion and social capital for much of the past 200 years.

The cost of losing these museums is not in bricks and mortar, but in what our museums do – in the fact that they change lives.

The loss is the child who never connects across time by holding that piece of Roman pottery, or the migrant who never feels the sense of belonging when an item she has brought with her is  added to the collection in her local museum. The loss is a human one – an emotional and educational loss and, ultimately, a loss of social capital.
The loss is also financial and, in terms of additional strain on the state, this may well be far greater than the cost of sustaining these institutions.

The Museums Association is proposing to “lobby across government” to raise awareness of the impact of this loss on towns and cities, many of which already have significant social and economic challenges. Please show your support for this work.

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