Theatre Museum could be facing the final curtain - Museums Association

Theatre Museum could be facing the final curtain

Concern is mounting over the future of the Theatre Museum in London. The museum’s parent body, the Victoria and Albert …
Felicity Heywood
Concern is mounting over the future of the Theatre Museum in London. The museum's parent body, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), has said it will review the future of the Theatre Museum after its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was rejected for the second time in January.

A spokeswoman for the V&A said that although a trustees meeting was held at the end of last month, it was unlikely that any decision would be made. She said it is 'hoped' that the review will be complete by May.

The HLF rejected two bids by the Theatre Museum to redevelop its building because of the limitations of the site and problems with physical access. The first application for £8.9m was refused in January 2004. The second scaled-back version was for £2.5m.

Responding to concerns about the proposed closure, Ian Blatchford, the deputy director of the V&A, said: 'Given the serious limitations of the building, we are looking at the feasibility of achieving greater appreciation of the collections without continuing with the building.'

Blatchford added that there might be an opportunity to have a permanent display focusing on the Theatre Museum's collections at the V&A. The V&A does not own the Theatre Museum building.

Other options include: more touring exhibitions; partnerships for education projects; more collections based at the V&A; and displays and exhibitions at the V&A.

The Theatre Museum's study collection moved to Blythe House, the V&A's store, last year and continues to be well used. The V&A spokeswoman said consultation is planned with theatre and funding bodies, as well as existing users of the museum.

John Levitt, the chairman of the Save London's Theatre Campaign, which has been lobbying to keep the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, said he found it hard to believe that there would be space available for a display at the V&A. He cautioned: 'It would be a grave mistake if it were to disappear from Covent Garden. The museum needs to be in one place.'

Frustration and low morale are sweeping through the Theatre Museum as the staff await their fate. Staff are unhappy about the way they were informed about the museum's future. Jonathan Gray, who until last year was an assistant curator at the Theatre Museum, said the entire V&A (including the Theatre Museum staff) were told via the intranet. He said: 'The museum is obviously not a very happy place at the moment.'

One source, who preferred not to be named, said that it was 'strange' to consider closing a national museum. 'It's very Lewis Carroll; when
is a museum not a museum.'

The Theatre Museum costs £2.5m to run each year. The spokeswoman denied that the V&A had a considerable deficit. She admitted that the museum was in debt, but said the amount wouldn't be known until later in the year and it would be 'relatively moderate'.

The V&A FuturePlan, detailing its ten-year strategy, doesn't include the Theatre Museum. A source said that it was originally included on the forward plan, but it disappeared around the time of the intranet message.

The spokeswoman said: 'The FuturePlan is for the structure of the V&A itself. The Theatre Museum and the Museum of Childhood have had their own capital development plans.'

Felicity Heywood

Unleashing Britain at the Theatre Museum is reviewed on page 44

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