Letters - Museums Association


MLA closure will hit the whole of the UK The proposed closure of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) …
Museums Association
MLA closure will hit the whole of the UK

The proposed closure of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has been discussed in the light of its impact on museums in England but it also has serious consequences for those in the other home countries.

Museums and galleries in Wales continue to participate in schemes and receive services from the MLA – in particular accreditation, the purchase grant funds and security advice. There are also a number of organisations funded through the MLA that provide advice, funding and support to museums in Wales, such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Collections Trust.

In responding to the changing museum environment, it is vital to consider the impact on the whole of the UK. Unfortunately, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport may not have the needs of museums outside of England at the top of its agenda and Wales does not have the capacity to take on these responsibilities alone.

The loss of the MLA may therefore have more significant consequences for Welsh Museums than their English counterparts, as there is a danger that any transition arrangements will not apply in Wales, or indeed Scotland and Northern Ireland.

With this in mind, the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales hopes that pressure will continue for proper consultation nationwide on the proposed changes, and the impact they will have on every museum and gallery in the UK.

Rachael Rogers, president of the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales

Crafty funding

I was very pleased to read your profile of Stephen Deuchar, highlighting the work the Art Fund is doing to support curatorial expertise and museum collecting in the UK.

I would like to highlight another example of the Art Fund’s contribution to public collecting. The Crafts Council and the Art Fund launched Art Fund Collect in 2008, to maximise the opportunity for UK museums and galleries to acquire contemporary craft from exhibitors at the Crafts Council’s international fair, Collect.

Three years on, the scheme has awarded £200,000 for purchases of ambitious, innovative and international contemporary craft and 11 museums and galleries, from Aberdeen Art Gallery to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, and the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, have benefited.

The scheme provides an ideal opportunity for curators of public collections to build their knowledge of UK and international craft and exemplifies the desire of both the Crafts Council and the Art Fund to support professional development for the sector.

As economic models change and evolve, I believe this kind of partnership working is a real strength for the sector and, on behalf of the Crafts Council, I am grateful to the Art Fund for its vision and support.

Rosy Greenlees, executive director, Crafts Council, London
Museums Journal August 2010, p36

Copyright confusion

I am writing to suggest that Museums Journal could very usefully publish an article about the vexed question of copyright law and its application to museum and art gallery displays.

There are frequent announcements of courses and workshops about copyright and galleries. I noticed two in the August issue of Museums Journal: the MA events calendar lists a workshop on 10 September and another on 20 September, both aimed at informing museum professionals about the law as seen from their side: protecting intellectual property, using it to enhance income, etc.

There is another side to the topic: the view from the visiting public. I have noticed, especially on photographers’ forums, a rising tide of anger at the increasing level of restrictions imposed on photography in galleries.

Some of the restrictions have to do with suppressing flash photography (for whatever reason), while in many cases ‘copyright’ is being wielded as the reason for prohibiting photography completely.

It seems to me (as a lay person with no detailed knowledge) that the laws on copyright are needlessly complicated, unclear, and of course vary greatly from country to country. We badly need a clear statement of the common-sense interpretation of these laws, in the UK at least. Maybe ‘common sense’ and ‘law’ is an oxymoron. But we cannot wait until each detail of interpretation has been decided by cases reaching the High Court.

Some US photographers, whether professional or serious amateur, go so far as to assert that any gallery supported by taxpayer money, even in part, has no right to prohibit photography at all. This is an extreme view, and largely restricted to the USA where there are many well-established laws regarding open access to programmes supported by federal money.

In the early 1990s there was a growing fear among curators of flash photography. I was then a working research scientist, and I realised that the electronic flash-guns used by amateurs could not, in normal practice, be regarded as very harmful to gallery exhibits. I published my findings in Museum Management and Curatorship 1994, vol 13 no 1 pp 104-106.

Very soon afterwards David Saunders, then at the National Gallery, London, published his much better-known survey where again he concluded that under normal circumstances amateur flash photography posed a negligible threat to paintings and other delicate exhibits, (National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol 16, 1995).

I have recently revised and updated this research and opinion. At present it is only on my website (seel link below).

It was while writing this update that I came across a huge amount of opinion and information about the copyright questions in galleries, and how the rules affected photographers. I did a quick survey of just the galleries and collections in Cambridge.

I was very surprised at the range of permissiveness or otherwise. Even in those galleries owned or run by the university there is no consistency. The situation is in a frightful muddle, both from the view of gallery managers and trustees, and from the view of the ordinary visitor who might reasonably want some sort of record of the visit.

Martin Evans, Linton, Cambridgeshire

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The editor, Museums Journal, 24 Calvin Street, London E1 6NW; email: journal@museumsassociation.org Museums Journal reserves the right to edit letters

October’s Museums Journal

  • Attracting new audiences to photography
  • The future for museum development officers
  • Working with teenagers
  • Interview with culture minister Ed Vaizey
  • Reviews: Origins Gallery, Stockport Story Museum; War at Sea, Imperial War Museum North, Salford; Industrial Revolutionaries, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston

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  • Collections reviews

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