A cultured view

Simon Stephens, 25.01.2012
Museums Journal: blog
When former culture secretary Chris Smith looks up at the canopy covering the Great Court at the British Museum he can see his name written on one of the 3,312 panes of glass that make up the roof.

Well, that’s not quite true, he can’t actually see it, but he assures me it’s there, as he was one of those who sponsored one of the panes, all of which are different.

The Great Court was an appropriate place to interview Smith, who will be profiled in the March edition of Museums Journal, as the British Museum was last year’s winner of the Art Fund Prize for its History of the World project and Smith is the chairman of the judges for this year’s prize.

The British Museum is also one the national museums that has benefited from the free-entry policy that Smith initiated while he was culture secretary, the achievement he is most proud of.

Shortly after leaving his post as culture secretary, Smith was asked to be chairman of an organisation that is a far cry from a London-based national museum: the Wordsworth Trust, which oversees Dove Cottage and The Wordsworth Museum & Art Gallery in Cumbria.

Coincidentally, the day after I interviewed Smith, Arts Council England announced that the Wordsworth Trust was among the 16 Renaissance major partners that will together receive about £20m a year in funding for the next three years.

The trust is part of Cumbria Museums Consortium that also features Tullie House and the Lakeland Arts Trust.

Others weren’t so lucky. Museums Sheffield has described ACE’s rejection of its application to be part of ACE’s Renaissance major grants programme as a “devastating blow”.

The future of regional museums worries Smith: many face cuts far bigger than those at national museums. The Wordsworth Trust is fine for now, but the future is not so rosy for others.

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Read Maurice Davies on Renaissance funding winners and losers

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