First off, I love museums, I do. I grew up going to St Fagans and Cardiff Museum, places like the Big Pit and Caerleon and I take my own kids to museums on holiday, in Cardiff, France, West Wales, London. However, I’m not sure about the financial viability of a museum in Barry. We don’t need a new museum planned by dinosaurs. It’s a tough time for established museums so having a solid model and a viable business plan will be really important. Sustainability and future proofing need to be part of the mix too. It would be a shame if funding for a new museum pulled funding options away from existing volunteer led set ups such as the heritage railway at Barry Island.
I saw mention of the Vale being only one of two councils in Wales without a museum. That’s not necessarily an argument for having one. It smacks a bit of “everyone else has one, why can’t we?”. All mention so far has very much been of a museum for Barry not the Vale as a whole.
Have you been to Carmarthen museum? I’ve been several times over the years, my kids enjoy it and the staff are lovely but it’s a prime example of a council owned building that needs a huge cash injection to stop it rotting away. (The good news is that this year they’ve had £1.27million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and will be closed for the year while works are carried out.) Closer to home and in the Vale, have people considered the pig’s ear that the Vale made out of Dyffryn Gardens before the National Trust got in there? The damage is still there to see. It’s not simply through neglect but through the lack of the expertise and vast sums of money that such projects require.
Both of the examples above are of old buildings and perhaps the idea for a Barry museum is to house it in an existing modern building or build something bespoke. I’ve read in a B&D article that one option is to put a museum in where the current Arts Central gallery is. So just the one room? What’s the relationship with the library? What happens to the gallery? What happens to the Arts Development budget? What happens to visual arts in Barry? Does anyone remember the historical archive that was open to the public and lived on the top floor of the Memo? I certainly don’t and it’s long gone now. Have lessons been learnt from that?
History is important, heritage is important, culture is important. I believe in us learning more about who we are, where we come from and how it can inform our decisions moving forwards. The concept of a Barry Museum isn’t clear enough for me. A museum isn’t just about putting things in a space and wanting people to think it’s interesting.
Will the museum be partnered with another organisation? Will it build on existing research and networks? Are there any links with HE or FE? How can we future proof a museum? Do we need a museum? Who is it for and what’s it about? There needs to be a real definition of purpose and cause. What difference could it make? Is it diverse? Is it telling stories? Is it about people? Is it look at all of the history of Barry ever or is it concentrating on e.g. the industrial revolution? The M Shed in Bristol does an absolutely cracking job of telling the story of Bristol, the good and the bad, but it’s a huge beast of an operation, it’s part of a city of over half a million people, a population 10 times that of Barry and it’s part of Bristol Museums. Even well established museums have had to diversify their offer to increase income with events such as silent discos and sleepovers.
Is a Barry museum trying to do everything but failing to deliver as an experience? How innovative is it? Are there any interactive exhibitions or displays or projects? Will there be a complementary participative programme, paid for by whom and delivered by whom? Who does the marketing? What’s the budget for that? Will there be volunteers? Who recruits and manages them? Where is it? What’s the parking situation? The public transport? How big is it? Where does the capital funding come from? What’s the scale?
Who curates the museum? There have been some really interesting projects and examples of questioning who makes those decisions, who decides what belongs or doesn’t in a museum. My seven year old and I have been loving the recent BBC series Secrets of the Museum showing the archives, curating, restoration and work that goes into planning and bringing objects to life in a meaningful way at the V&A. Again, I know it’s a completely different scale to a potential Vale of Glamorgan or Barry museum but archiving, preservation, context, storytelling don’t seem to have been referenced in anything I’ve read so far.
I don’t have enough information to give a proper response to the tweets and newspaper articles about a Barry museum. There are too many variables. From the B&D article it sounds like there has already been a feasibility study. What were the results and recommendations? Where can I access the information? Has anyone met with directors of other museums? Is there a network of council run museums? What are the challenges or opportunities of a museum being run by a council? I’d imagine there would be the same frustrations that I see in theatres and arts centres that are managed by a local authority which I won’t go into here but there’s a long list.
In the B&D article there was mention of Barry pre Victorian era industrialisation. That is only part of Barry’s story. Then there’s the Butlins and Gavin and Stacey side of things which focus a lot on the Island but don’t quite encapsulate the rest of the town. I worry that the idea of a museum is maybe something in the minds of people who fill Facebook with “they never should’ve got rid of the Lido” posts that doesn’t quite match up to or even exceed contemporary museum curating, management, delivery, innovation, partnerships, networks, potentials and so on.
I’ve waffled, I know. I’ve asked far too many questions. I’m just hugely concerned about the sustainability of a museum for Barry, that lessons haven’t been learnt from the project that turned out to be a damp squib in the top space in the Memo and that it’s apparently pushing out the gallery. I love museums and I really value the work that they do, I have too many questions and reservations at the moment to get fully behind the concept of a Barry Museum.
(I wrote this before the Coronavirus kicked off.)