National Museum of Costume. Copyright: National Museums Scotland

Anger over plans to close costume museum

Rebecca Atkinson, 27.11.2012
NMS trustees to decide on proposal in February
A controversial proposal to close the National Museum of Costume in Dumfries and Galloway will be considered in February, despite criticism that closure will severely damage the region's cultural activities and local economy.

National Museums Scotland (NMS) said that reduced public funding means it cannot continue to operate the costume museum from its home in Shambellie House in New Abbey.

“The National Museum of Costume has a very large operational spend per museum visitor (£23) and low visitation (10,000 annual visits to the museum and 5,000 to the shop, cafe and grounds),” it said in a statement.

Its board of trustees will decide the future of the costume museum at its next board meeting in February. Further consultation with stakeholders on the future of the site and proposals for delivering alternative services in Dumfries and Galloway will take place ahead of this date.

The National Museum of Costume was donated to the secretary of state for the environment in 1977, and ownership now lies with Scottish ministers. Its proposed closure has prompted political debate, with opposition parties calling on culture secretary Fiona Hyslop to intervene and save the museum.

Much of the criticism levelled at the plan is focused on the importance of culture outside of Scotland’s large cities.

Russell Brown, Labour MP for Dumfries and Galloway and shadow defence minister, said: “If this was a museum in Glasgow or Edinburgh you can be sure the Scottish National Party would be doing all they could to keep it open, but they don’t care because it is in Dumfries and Galloway.”

And Jim Hume, the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, said closing the museum would be a blow to the region's cultural activities and local economy.

"At a time when Edinburgh's national museum has undergone a substantial investment programme, many people across Dumfries and Galloway will rightly be asking why Shambellie House is being put in jeopardy,” he added. “Closure must not be an option."

Dumfries and Galloway Council and Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce have called for a 12-month delay in the proposed closure to allow other management structures to be fully explored. But NMS said this would only “prolong uncertainty for both the region and our staff”.

In a statement it said: “[NMS] remains committed to providing access to the national collections across Scotland through loans of its treasures, touring exhibitions, formal partnerships with local museum services and outreach programmes.

"The board of trustees believes that significant benefits can be offered to Dumfries and Galloway through working in this way, an approach that has been very successful in other areas of Scotland where NMS does not operate museums of its own.”
But in a letter to The Herald newspaper, Gordon Mann, chairman of Destination Dumfries and Galloway and unnamed other parties, warned that closure would set “a dangerous precedent for Scotland” and reverse moves by other national bodies to make collections more accessible by establishing regional galleries.

“The proposal to close [the National Museum of Costume] is in stark contrast to the way [NMS] has developed and invested in the National Museum of Flight and the National Museum of Rural Life, where it has invested heavily and relaunched to great acclaim and growing visitor numbers,” they wrote.

“By contrast the costume museum seems to be the Cinderella collection of NMS and has not seen any major investment and not surprisingly visitor numbers are low. The museum represents less than 1% of the NMS budget yet it is the only national collection in Dumfries and Galloway, giving it much greater significance.”


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MA Member
05.12.2012, 15:10
I'd be interested to see the £spend per visitor in a breakdown for all NMS venues, and to see the visitor profile of each venue as well. That way, we'd get an idea of the value of each venue to Scotland's communities.Regularly visiting the South of Scotland, I don't think the promotional print for the National Museum of Costume is on a par with that of the Museum of Scotland. Perhaps there's some work to be done in terms of bigging up the fact there's a National in D
Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
29.11.2012, 21:01
Does Scotland have a similar system to the one now operating in Wales where the National Museum is showing its collections through a series of partnerships with local museums rather than trying to establish national museums in every part of the country.The Welsh model could be a more cost effective approach and does mean more money is spent on making collections accessible, rather than being lost to 'rates', maintenance, utility bills and the other oncosts that come from having 'outposts'. Herefordshire Museums Service have had an excellent 'museum on the move' for the past fifteen years but I don't think they would try to pass it off as a replacement for a proper museum. It is an addition and a way to engage with communities and to encourage visits to the main museum. As for Scotland, people in rural communities pay just as much tax as people in urban areas so they shouldn't be fobbed off with a second-class service (although unfortunately they generally do when it comes to nearly all public services!), so cough up the cash, Edinburgh!
Steve Little
Sole Proprietor, Little Exhibit
29.11.2012, 14:14
For the moment, during this financially disruptive period, it would seem that the blending of the static location museum, with all it's public access cost and the outreach program need to be blended into a more cost efficient methodology.The number of visit days created by one individual is very low. If the traffic required to justify a rather large facility is not present in a rural community, then the structure by which a visitor is exposed to a collection should be made relevant to their visitation habits.I believe more mobile museums need to be generated. These would be lorry drawn museums in a container. They can visit a rural community, thereby bring the collection to an area that may otherwise go very undeserved by a distant museum in a static structure. This mobile museum would have annual or semi annual refits so that when it revisited a community within a periodic schedule, they would have new displays in order to prompt revisits. This is the basic contingency of the temporary exhibit.Each visit would be proceeded by an advertising scheme that would generate excitement within the community for the limited engagement at their doorstep. In this scenario, permanent collections could be maintained in smaller, limited public access structures for the time being, while the rural communities could be served in a more efficient, "bring the collection (or portions of it) to the visitor". The hopes would be that this is a temporary address meant for a short term fiscal issue. In the future, a different model could be applied. I think everyone in the museum community is al least aware of the shift for greater electronic access to collections, whether we like it or agree to it is inconsequential. For the time being, that sort of digital access doesn't really serve the rural community as well either, but It is gaining ground.A smaller, mobile museum,with less day to day operating cost and the ability to go off line during slow periods or inclimate weather days would save thousands over the older model of public access structures on location.