Caithness Horizons museum and art gallery in north-east Scotland has been forced to close due to financial difficulties.
The independent trust had been operating under “lean” conditions for the past year before making the difficult decision to shut its doors this week, said its commercial manager, Tracy Dodson, who described the closure as a “business decision made with the head but not with the heart”.
“It’s all to do with sustainable funding,” Dodson added. “We’ve done everything we can, but we can’t operate financially.”
Last year, the museum’s manager was made redundant and its curator’s working hours were halved as a result of a reduction in its grant from the Highland Council. Its annual running costs were £337,000 for 2018-19. “If someone came forward with £100,000 to keep us going that would be great, but they haven’t so far,” said Dodson.
The venue, which opened in 2008, depicts the history of Caithness county from 416 million years ago to the present day.
Its collections include early medieval sculpture discovered in the local area, geological and botanical science specimens gathered by the Victorian botanist Robert Dick, and the nationally important Dounreay Collection, which represents the history of the nearby Dounreay Nuclear Research Establishment and includes a reconstruction of a nuclear control room.
“We’re already seeking independent assistance with the dispersion of our collection,” said Dodson. “It will be done in a very timely manner. I hope that the collection will be dispersed locally. We’re in talks with local museums and galleries about this.”
The museum is due to meet next week with the Highland Council, which owns the building, to discuss its future. Dodson said she was hopeful that the building would remain in community use.
The museum thanked its supporters, staff and volunteers in a statement, saying: “We are very sad to announce the closure of Caithness Horizons... This has been a difficult decision based upon significantly increasing running costs and reducing income, making it unsustainable long term.”
The statement continued: “Over the years, the Caithness Horizons team has worked hard to ensure that our local culture and history has been shared. We are immensely proud of what has been achieved and we remain just as passionate about telling the story of our county today as we did the day we opened. We remain in discussion with Highland Council regarding next steps."
The closure was described by one Twitter user as “an absolute punch in the gut to anyone who cares about Caithness. A sad sad loss to the community”.
Another said the venue was “a jewel in Caithness heritage and museums”.
An open letter sent to the museum's trustees, signed by more than 80 academics and professionsals, has warned that "the dispersal or removal of the collection would be detrimental to a general understanding and engagement with the region’s history".
The letter continued: "We regret the museum’s closure at such short notice and hope that a constructive and transparent dialogue, involving stakeholders, professionals, researchers and the community, will be entered regarding both the collection’s future and that of the facility as a community hub for Caithness."
Updated to include details of the letter sent this week to the museum's trustees.