Closure of National Museum of Costume in Dumfries and Galloway mooted (and confirmed in 2013)
While I’m unlikely to ever support the closure of any museum, and I’m also pleased to note that it is a subject I have not had need to comment on for a while, I find I have mixed responses while reading reports about closure of the National Museum of Costume, based in Shambellie House for the past 30 years – a Victorian country house in New Abbey, near Dumfries.
The house dates back to 1856, and was left to the nation in 1977 by local artist and designer Charles W Stewart, who had started collecting clothes from before World War I, found in friends’ attics and market stalls. The house had been built by his great-grandfather, to a design by Edinburgh architect David Bryce.
Stewart left the family home and his fashion collection to the then Royal Scottish Museum in a bid to keep the collection together, as he feared it would be dispersed after his death and “cast away to the dangers and squalors from which so much of it had been rescued”.
But bosses at the Edinburgh-based organisation say it can no longer continue to operate the site, which costs £23 per head per visitor to run and maintain.
And that figure of £23 per head is the one that causes me a problem, and stops me from automatically being against any thoughts of closure.
A spokeswoman confirmed an internal consultation was underway, with a result expected before the end of next.
Items from the original Stewart collection are on display at the museum, along with items from the vast collections held by the National Museums Scotland organisation.
Even so, as one who had to run a business and write the wages cheques at the end of every month, I can’t help but think something is wrong somewhere if it costs £23 per visitor at Shambellie.
Not enough ‘bums on seat’, or cost that are way out of control?
Either way, it just can’t continue as a money pit, or has to find a different way of being funded. Simply holding a hand out in the hope that those on high will drop more cash there is not any way forward, and just means postponement, not salvation.
They’ve announced a review. I hope it doesn’t end with all involved simply saying, “Well, we’re not accepting any cuts.” If it doesn’t bring radical changes, then they might as well shut the doors and disperse the collection and property now.
November should bring the result.
Update – November 2012
Looks like November’s meeting didn’t resolve much:
Museum chiefs have rejected calls for a 12-month reprieve for the closure-threatened National Museum of Costume near New Abbey.
They say a final decision on Shambellie House will be made in February.
A statement on behalf of the trustees of National Museums Scotland said this would allow enough time for further consultation with interested parties.
A debate in the Scottish Parliament last week heard calls for a year’s reprieve to discuss all options.
However, the trustees said they believed such a postponement would prolong uncertainty for both the region and museum staff.
NMS has said high costs per visitor and reduced funding means it has to take action at Shambellie House.
Update – January 2013
Looks like they want to dither into February (is something good being negotiated, but not confirmed), since all they could positively rule out was running for another year to see if they could improve things:
Update – February 2013
That didn’t take long, and wasn’t really anything of a great surprise, since no-one brought anything new to the table.
Even the local MPs played their part, and came up with the standard “They had already decided to close it before all this started” routine, followed by cries of “their” corner of the world being forgotten, and that “All options were not looked at”.
It’s a shame that it has to close, but with no visitors to speak of, there is no real decision to be made, and it is a pity that the local MPs could not work around that, rather than merely come up with the usual accusations of some sort of attack on their area. But then again, isn’t that how the game of politics is played?
It is now planned to display a selection of items from the former museum’s costume collection in the new art and design galleries which are scheduled to open in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, in 2016.
Shambelie House itself will revert to Scottish Government ownership, and a feasibility study for its options for use has been funded by the Government:
Update May 2014
This is becoming another marathon I had no idea I would be following!
The findings of a report on potential future uses of the former National Museum of Costume near New Abbey will be released “shortly”.
Update June 2014
After the local MP moaned about the state of the grounds, which apparently became the responsibility of the Scottish Government after NMS walked away, the Scottish Government confirmed it would undertake the required maintenance. I’d make a joke about that, only the NMS is just another bit of the Scottish Government, so the money comes from the same pot.
At the same time, it was noted that a report by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which had been commissioned by the Scottish Government to produce a report on the future of Shambellie by last November, was yet to be published.