New Walk Museum is one of seven sites managed by the council

Plans approved to scrap Leicester curatorial team

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 14.03.2018
Council votes through restructure of museum service
Leicester City Council has approved plans to remove specialist curator roles at its museum service.

The restructure will see four curator posts made redundant and the creation of a new “audience development and engagement team” that will focus on using collections to engage communities and better reflect the city’s diversity.

A new post of exhibitions and displays manager has been created to manage interpretation, make collections accessible and deliver a “high quality exhibitions and display programme”.

The changes come as the council’s department for arts, museums, festivals and events, which oversees seven museums and heritage sites in the city, faces a £320,000 cut to its 2019-20 budget.  

Those facing redundancy have been invited to apply for different roles but local media has reported that none of the curators has been redeployed on the new team.

A council spokeswoman said: "We are supporting staff who have been displaced in this review through this difficult time using the council’s wider redeployment scheme. This scheme includes other job opportunities within the museums service, which staff are able to apply for if they wish. We are also assisting with training and other support."

Leicester’s head of arts and museums, Jo Jones, said: "We continue to support and invest in our arts and museums service. Developing the service and providing access to museums and collections is at the heart of our future plans. We’re proud of the fact that access to our city museums is free for everyone.
 
"We have a plan for managing our collections, overseen by our audience development and engagement manager, who has a curatorial background. We also have a very knowledgeable collections manager – a more senior post than curators – who is responsible for leading on collections care, access and documentation across the museums service.
 
“Our intention is to bring in specialist curatorial knowledge as and when required. We have already used this approach for the development of our very popular new Ancient Egypt Gallery at New Walk Museum.”

Jones told Museums Journal earlier this month that the review reflected a need for the service to “modernise and be much more user-focused”.

The restructure has attracted the attention of the national press and sparked a heated debate among museum professionals. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s director Tristram Hunt tweeted that it was “really shocking news”.

Horniman Museum director Nick Merriman tweeted: “We need expert curators to bring alive the multiple stories that are in collections. We are seeing a hollowing out of this expertise across the UK, which will lead to long-term decline.”

However, David Fleming, professor of public history at Liverpool Hope University and a former president of the Museums Association (MA), tweeted in response to Hunt: “Should get the full facts before commenting publicly, I think. So easy to be taken in by sensational journalism. The director at Leicester museums actually knows what she’s doing.”

The MA’s director Sharon Heal said the decision was a “direct result of the cuts that many local authority museums face”.

She said: “Over the past five years spending on culture in England and Wales has fallen by over 30% and this has had an impact on museums and the services they can provide. 



“Museums are having to make tough decisions in order to keep the doors open and this has often led to loss of collections, audience and community engagement roles. It shouldn’t have to be an either or decision - museums need both collections knowledge and the skills to engage communities to ensure they are sustainable and relevant going forward. 



“The systematic undermining of local authority finances means that the incredible network of local museums and galleries that we have in the UK is at risk. It also puts at risk the curators, subject specialist and community engagement staff that can bring collections to life. 



“Local government finance needs to be put on a secure footing in order that local services including museums can be delivered.”

Update
14.03.2019

Edited to include statements from Leicester City Council and Jo Jones.

Comments

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14.03.2019, 12:06
A tragic result of local authority cuts, but if anyone really thinks that cutting curatorial posts is a way to “modernise and be much more user-focused”, then I find that deeply concerning.
Anonymous
23.03.2019, 16:13
This comments section is a curatorial echo chamber. I never hear any fuss when learning staff are cut. learning & engagement staff are normally the first to be cut & it’s taken as a given that that should happen. just as curators are fed up with the ‘stuffy gatekeeper’ stereotype, so too are learning staff fed up with ‘can’t possibly ever know as much as the curators’ stereotype. there’s a systemic hierarchy & the museum sector is merely posturing with regards to diversity & equality.
14.03.2019, 16:46
Hi - I just want to clarify that the article was edited to insert two new statements, one from a council spokeswoman and one from Jo Jones.
Anonymous
14.03.2019, 14:01
Interesting how this article has been edited since this morning to include the 'council spokeswoman' only. She will add 'specialist curatorial knowledge' when required - really? And she has a 'plan'? The example given is not worthy because the Egyptian gallery had been planned and developed way before an external curator was brought in for the final stretch. And nobody doubts that the Collections Manager & engagement team will do a fine job but it is not a matter of collections/engagement vs curatorial; both are vital.It really is dreadful to try and pitch them against each other in a way that's unbefitting to the profession, purely to justify a frankly bad and misguided review
Anonymous
14.03.2019, 12:16
And when the new temporary posts funded by the Arts Council are defunct after 3 years, what then? That little point just seems to never be mentioned when the Council is defending its actions. It was, no doubt, hoping to get all this done & dusted before it became too public
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2019/mar/13/curator-cuts-at-leicester-museums-criticised-as-disastrous?CMP=share_btn_tw