Sharon Heal

Closed for business

Sharon Heal, 04.01.2012
Museums Journal: blog
Just before Christmas I visited Sunderland Museum. The trip wasn’t conducted entirely on a whim. A few months before I had been to see the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at Tate Liverpool and while there I flicked through a copy of the graphic novel Alice in Sunderland.

I then tweeted how much I liked this inspiring book and lo and behold one arrived in the post about a week later (NB this does not work if you tweet how much you would like a two-week holiday in the Caribbean).

Duly enthused by Bryan Talbot’s paean to the North East and its not-so-tenuous links to the Carroll story, I decided to visit Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, which gets a huge plug in the book, and see for myself.

It’s 10 years since the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported refurbishment of the museum and the adjoining park and on the whole the displays stand the test of time.

As the schools had broken up I took my 10-year-old-daughter and her friend. Approaching the museum they spotted the poster for The Truth About Fairies temporary exhibition, which gave rise to the disparaging comment: “Fairies don’t exist. Tooth fairy? It’s your Mum. Santa? It’s your Dad.”

The young-and-yet-so-cynical were, however, engaged by the social history permanent displays and seemed particularly intrigued by the Swinging Sixties diorama - could it have been the descriptions of dope-smoking and groping at the dance? They were also wowed by the tree-top walk in the Winter Gardens, the friendly koi carp in the pond below and the reindeer in the adjoining park.

The museum and gardens were crammed with families when we visited - doing something gently enjoyable and potentially educational always makes a nice change from the frenzied commercialism of that time of year.

Shame then that the budget cuts meant that the museum was shut for a solid two weeks over Christmas and new year - just when you might want a break from the Downton Abbey repeats and the foul weather.

So much for the cuts not affecting frontline services. Not being able to open your doors at a time when you know local communities would appreciate a free cultural haven must be dispiriting for staff and visitors.

Have the cuts affected your opening hours over Christmas? Please comment below.

Sharon Heal is editor of Museums Journal

For more on funding cuts to museums, click here


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