Blackpool Council makes a bid to take the Theatre Museum to the north

Felicity Heywood, Issue 107/1, p6, January 2007
A Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) outpost in the north of England could become a reality if the latest efforts to save the Theatre Museum are successful.
Blackpool Council and the V&A last month announced a feasibility study to relocate the Theatre Museum to Blackpool. The two have been in talks since spring 2006.

David Owen, the cabinet member for culture and leisure at Blackpool Council, said it approached the V&A because Blackpool has 'the most active theatre land outside London'.

Owen said the proposal for a National Theatre Museum in Blackpool had already received support on many levels and the council has consulted the North West Development Agency.

'There is much we could offer. Not just for the razzamatazz of costume and theatre but as a new centre for theatre research.' He said with more than 10 million visitors to town, 'we can make it an ideal place for the collection'.

To state his case, he drew on the museum's performance while in London. 'Essentially, 170,000 visitors is derisorily small. It hasn't been universally popular in the West End. It isn't being properly appreciated down in London,' he said.

Following the collapse of the V&A and Royal Opera House joint plan to rescue the Theatre Museum (Museums Journal November 2006, p9) the Covent Garden site is to close this month.

The V&A is still working on plans for a permanent gallery in South Kensington to display some of the theatre collection while also looking at the Blackpool option. But the V&A has also said it 'is still open to new initiatives to display the collections'.

A new group called the Guardians of the Theatre Museum, including former staff, has voiced its dissent at the possibility of London losing the museum.

Ian Herbert, the chairman of the Society for Theatre Research, said: 'We are happy that the Theatre Museum might have a site in Blackpool. It is evidence that the V&A remembers the museum is important.' But he added: 'The obvious headquarters is London.'

Representatives from the Guardians of the Theatre Museum have met with David Lammy, the culture minister, to put forward a 'serious commercial financial rescue plan'.

But Lammy batted the proposal back into the V&A's court. Herbert said the Guardians' rescue plan was still being pursued. Owen dismissed the Guardians as 'small but committed' with little impact.

The V&A was unavailable for comment.

Felicity Heywood