Stoke pauses curatorial restructure plans after public outcry - Museums Association

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Stoke pauses curatorial restructure plans after public outcry

Council will revise proposals but says it plans to move ahead with team merger
Curatorial Cuts Restructure
Gladstone Pottery Museum will close during the winter but reopen during some school holidays
Gladstone Pottery Museum will close during the winter but reopen during some school holidays

A curatorial team restructure at Stoke-on-Trent Museums is on hold following a public consultation.

Abi Brown, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, announced last week that the council was pausing plans to merge the curatorial teams at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Gladstone Pottery Museum, which would have resulted in the loss of around 19 full-time equivalent posts, including two specialist ceramics curators, and the creation of 5.5 new positions.

The move – part of wider proposals to cut around £560,000 a year from the council’s museum budget – was widely criticised, with the Friends of Gladstone Pottery Museum group warning that the loss of curatorial expertise could affect the Designated status of the collections. A petition against the plans attracted around 23,000 signatures.

Brown said there had been “much misunderstanding and misrepresentation” of the original proposals, but that a new plan had emerged during the consultation process “that could see us able to enhance our ceramics curatorial offer in a way that would strengthen our available expertise and reach”.

“This would involve a strong core team, enhanced partnership working with other expert institutions and access to ongoing independent, expert advice,” said Brown.

Brown said that since publishing the original proposals, the council had also learned from the recent Levelling Up white paper that the UK Government has ageed that relevant national expert institutions will work with the city to enhance its ceramics heritage offer.

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“We have many ideas to how such a vision could be realised but we need to take time to understand what is on offer and how that will build on our existing assets,” she said.

Brown said that while the council still intended to create a single curatorial team to cover both museums, the restructure and budget cut would be paused “with a view to bringing back a preferred model in a month or two’s time”.

Brown said she was confident that the merger proposal “is a sound one”, adding: “The relationship between production and exhibition of ceramics is central to the understanding of the history of the Potteries but it is [a] narrative that is not adequately expressed through our offer at the current time. We are determined to change that. It isn’t right that Gladstone currently has no relevant curatorial expertise and if we do not take steps to develop Gladstone’s offer, the museum will not sustain and rare crafts could wither and die.”

Plans to cut funding to Ford Green Hall and Etruria Industrial Museum are also on hold for a year. Brown confirmed the council would freeze the grant at the current level for 2022/23 and “work with both museums to secure a sustainable future position”.

Brown said the council would move ahead with proposed changes to the opening times of the museums, including controversial plans to close Gladstone during the winter so that it can be used for filming and venue hire.

However, she said that in response to feedback from the public, the museum will open to the public for Christmas and February half term, as well as some weekends.

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Meanwhile the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery will still have its opening days cut from seven to five, but will also run “a special day for schools” on Tuesdays where pupils will have exclusive access to its exhibitions and educational resources.

The Heritage Network for Stoke-on-Trent has criticised the council's response to the consultation as “insufficient”, saying some of the council leader's comments were “disingenuous at best and patronising at worst”.

In a statement, the network said: “Although we must acknowledge and offer a limited welcome to the changes proposed, in reality, these revisions are minimal. The lack of any significant change of direction or related revised budgets clearly highlights that the council and its leader have not ‘listened carefully’ to the feedback received and intend to carry on regardless. The main thrust of the original proposals and major budget cuts remain the same. There are arguably even more unanswered questions and serious concerns.”

The changes will reduce the council’s planned budget saving from £560,000 to £479,000 in 2022/23. Five-year budget cuts will amount to just under £2.6m, reduced from £2.8m in the original proposals. The council is due to vote on its budget this week.

Update
23.02.2022

Updated to include a statement from the Heritage Network for Stoke-on-Trent.

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