Sadly, Bradford’s National Media Museum is under attack again. Last week a story broke which has got worse and worse. What started as “cultural asset stripping”, even “cultural rape”, is being seen as a winding down of The National Media Museum which could lead to Bradford’s biggest and most popular museum being downgraded from a national museum and the end of UNSECO’s first City of Film losing all of its film festivals.
Firstly, the museum’s photography collection is to be broken up with hundreds of thousands of items being shipped down to London. This will almost double the Victoria & Albert Museum’s photography collection, making the world’s largest and most prestigious single collection – but almost half of that collection will come from Bradford. The Royal Photographical Society laughably said that the a London-based collection would be geographically more central – seriously! Many have asked why the greatest collection of photography in the world could not be held at the National Media Museum, erstwhile National Museum of Film, Photography & Television, and actually more geographically central; none have answered.
Next was notification of redundancies and cost cutting. Ironically, one of the main excuses for the move of the huge collection of items, described as “Bradford’s treasures” in The Guardian, is that budget cuts have meant that The National Media Museum can’t properly curate the collection nor facilitate the large number of students & academics who want to study the collection. This appears to be creating a vicious cycle where the budget is cut leading to a reduced capacity to handle the increased (yes, *increased*) visitor numbers & collections, which allows powers that be to cut the budget further.
Later came the potential renaming of The National Media Museum. Science Museum North is one option, as NMeM changes focus to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) to increase interest and participation in these disciplines. A worthy cause, but surely the NMeM’s present role allows for this without being turned into a provincial outpost of the capital’s Science Museum; and doesn’t Manchester’s MOSI already cover this remit? The beauty of NMeM is that it is so diverse, and can not only show the science & technology of the media but interweave that science with the art & culture & beauty it produces. I wonder how Hockney, Priestley, Delius and Rothenstein would feel about art being ripped from the heart of their city.
Last March, the Science Museum trustees’ meeting began talking of the move of the collection and it and a name change were decided last July. The minutes note that this could be seen as “taking the best from Bradford” and giving it to London, and both needed “local consultation”. Have you been consulted? Have any of our leaders? Did anyone outside the M25 know about the changes until this week? We’ve been kept in the dark about decisions made in, by and for the benefit of London. London’s arts get £4 per person for every £1 spent everywhere else in the country; the V&A can, at a whim, double (temporarily) its photographic gallery and increase its staffing to cope with increased demand for the new mega-collection. How much more valuable, in terms of economy, decentralisation, the message behind the Northern Powerhouse and support for regionalism, Yorkshire & the North, would that investment and those jobs be if created here in Bradford? What would it say to us if instead of losing (at least) 6 highly-skilled, academic curator positions, we gained some, we expanded, we got something from London? How would that feel? Sadly, it remains a rhetorical question because it’s never happened… at least, not since the National Museum of Film, Photography & Television was first opened.
Finally, The National Media Museum has dropped the Bradford International Film Festival (after also abandoning Bite the Mango and Bradford Animation Festival) leaving UNESCO’s first International City of Film without its film festivals. Surely a further demonstration that our National Media Museum is being wound down.
So, what to do? For most of us, ire, anger and a deep sadness is only softened by the fact that we’re numb through desensitisation to this: repeated misrule, undermining and ignoring of us & our needs in favour of London and Leeds has left little for the ordinary Bradfordian to do but shrug and expect the worse; it even took a Londoner to set up the 38 degrees petition (now with over 23k signatories) to decry the decision to send the photographs south. The Media Museum nearly closed a few years ago; BBC Radio Leeds & Asian Network left the city; HMRC are closing all its offices in Bradford and move jobs to Leeds. The list goes on. And on. And on.
I asked what we should do. I’m still waiting for answers. I’ve asked this before of politicians when writing about education and got little in the way of useful replies. But if I’ve learnt anything recently, it’s that we can’t leave it up to politicians (as vocal as many have been about this recently). If we want a National Media Museum, an International Film Festival, to be more than a provincial backwater led by donkeys in Leeds or London, we must do something.
At the minimum, sign this petition to show the powers that be that you want Bradford and the North to retain one of its artistic & scientific institutions…
Then, get mad.
- Write to your council and your councillor. They probably agree with you already but if they go into meetings with Science Museum Group, MPs, Department of Culture, Media & Sport, etc with 100s of letters, each a concrete example of support for Bradford to continue at the head & heart of photographic & cinematic curatorship & research, they will be well armed in the fight to come. Find your councillor here or tweet Susan Hinchcliffe, Bradford’s lead on Culture, to give her your support.
- Write to your MP. Three of Bradford’s MPs, Judith Cummings (South), Imran Hussain (East) and Naz Shah (West), need your letters to fight the fight they’re taking on. Kris Hopkins (Keighley) and Philip Davies (Bingley) have been quiet on the issue – and they’ll see no reason to speak up & speak out unless the people they work for – you – speak to them. Find your MP here. And remember, this is the NATIONAL Media Museum – whether you’re in Bradford or not, tell your representatives that you want art & culture here in the north, accessible to more people more easily.
- You can also tell the Department of Culture, Media & Sports that we need, we demand, a significant demonstration of the arts in Bradford and West Yorkshire. You can email DCMS here or minister Ed Vaizey here. You can also tweet Ed Vaizey or tweet James Wharton (Northern Powerhouse minister; afterall, what’s a powerhouse without a heart & and an eye?).
- The Science Museum Group knew about this nearly a year ago and said local public consultation was needed – but wasn’t asked for. Let’s give them the consultation they need by contacting them.
- Of course, The National Media Museum needs your support and your input. Tell them you want a National museum, you want a world renowned photography collection, you want film festivals and, most of all, you want them to be great. Email them here or tweet the here.
Send this post to friends and ask them to contact too. Get everyone from the North to understand that this is about all of us, not just Bradford. Get those who love art and want to share that love to write: how many great artifacts already reside in London and how much more good could they do here? Get people to speak up for the injustice this clearly is. These photos, these festivals belong to you and me and Bradford and the North and the rest of the UK outside London. Get them to demand it.
A 2 second tweet, a 2 minute email or a 20 minute rant – whatever amount of time you can spend, spend it today. Ask yourself, in the future, will you have done something to save our National Media Museum… or will you wish you had?
When I started writing this, I expected to get angrier and angrier. I haven’t. Maybe it’s the desensitisation I mentioned earlier… but maybe, just maybe, Bradford’s got enough going for it to make a change, make a difference and make people take notice. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?