Resilience in north Wales

Simon Stephens, 28.05.2014
How Gwynedd Museum avoided closure and found a new home
With all the talk of the need for museums to be resilient in the face of funding cuts, it’s interesting to hear about a museum that has been through the wringer and emerged stronger the other side.

I visited Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery in Bangor last week to interview Nest Thomas, who is the principal museums and arts officer at Gwynedd County Council. One of our main topics of discussion was a project to create a new home for the museum at Bishop’s Palace, which is a stone’s throw from the museum’s existing site. Work on the project, which has benefited from a £1.4m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, is expected to be complete in autumn next year.

This is amazing as it was only a few years ago that county council cuts had threatened to shut what is the oldest general museum in north Wales. Thomas says closure seemed inevitable at one point.

But museums are often remarkably robust institutions and very few have actually shut in recent years considering the huge budget cuts they have had to deal with, although this should not disguise widespread job losses and reductions in services.

What many museums do have in their favour are communities of support that will fight closure and look for new solutions. This is what happened in Gwynedd, where there was backing from politicians, Friends of the museum and the community.

Representatives from Gwynedd council, Bangor University, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Friends of Gwynedd Museum hammered out a support package to keep the museum open and since then it has gone from strength to strength.

Money is now very tight – the museum has been cut to the bone and there is no slack. Further reductions in funding would be devastating. But everyone involved – staff, Friends, the council and the university – is aware that they have a vital role to play in keeping the museum up and running, including raising money where it can be found.

But, for the foreseeable future at least, the museum has proved not just how resilient museums can be, but how they can flourish, even in these difficult times.

Resilience will be a major strand of the Museums Association annual conference, which is taking place in Cardiff on 9-10 October.

Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
30.05.2014, 23:04
Nest and Esther ran a brilliant campaign to save Gwynedd Museum and ensure its fab collections remain accessible to locals and visitors alike. If the university and the council had shut down the place, i would have driven along the A55 and torn down that brown sign that proclaims Bangor to be Dinas Addysg - City of Learning because it would have been a lie.