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A Magazine for Sheffield

Museums: England's fourth largest city deserves better

At the time of writing, Museums Sheffield has lost its Arts Council funding. Not the 'We Wanna Do This One Tiny Cool Project' funding. No, they lost Renaissance Major Grants Funding, which may as well be called the 'Explaining Things to Kids via Awesome Projects For Free' funding. You know, the stuff they do really well that makes us keep on coming back for more. To the tune of £1.4 million a year for the next three years. Now, I'm a city girl. Always have been, always will be. Born in Brooklyln, went to uni in Manhattan, I've lived in Sheffield for over a decade. One reason I love cities is the museums. Okay, I'm going to extend a metaphor to the absolute limits of its tensile and ductile strength here, so bear with me. If Sheffield is our house, the Peak District is the neighbourhood park. The city parks are our back garden and the museums are the bit of our bedroom where we keep our cool stuff. Maybe now it's the study, or the playroom or the shelf above your desk, or the top of the telly. The book signed by your favourite author and the photo of your grandma in drag, your Pez dispenser collection and the Lego figure that looks just like your best mate. When the pace of city life gets you down, poking around looking at all that stuff reminds you who you are and where you come from. It entertains you and cheers you up. You can invite your friends up to your room and have a laugh with them looking at that stuff together. The first thing you do when you make a new friend is show them your cool stuff. They can decide if they like you, and they will do, because it's not the stuff they like about you, it's seeing how enthusiastic and engaged you are with the meaning you give it, how your eyes light up with the kinetic energy of how it has shaped and affected you. That's what the museums are for - taking out of town visitors, taking the kids, taking ourselves off the grid for an hour. Looking at where we've been and where we're going. And we know that. We visit our museums all the time. But in January, Museums Sheffield posted the following on their website: 'Yesterday, we learned that our application for £1.4m of Renaissance Major Grant funding, cash which has transformed the service we provide for the city since 2004, had also been turned down by the Arts Council. 'This comes at a time when local authority cuts, passed down from central government, are impacting badly on arts organisations. Our own local authority funding has been cut by 12% in the current year. The combined effect of these cuts means that Museums Sheffield's budget for 2012/13 will decline by at least 30%. Large scale staff redundancies, major reductions in exhibition programmes and scaled down learning provision for schools/ adults are all now inevitable. 'We believe England's fourth largest city, home to over half a million people and awash with creative talent and potential, deserves better. Visual art in Sheffield in particular is now grossly underfunded in comparison to the city's potential.' Sheffield responded with comments, letters, emails, phone calls, tweets. Local artist Pete McKee set up the Shefftopia collective to support the arts and protest the cuts, and invited everyone within the sound of his Facebook and Twitter accounts to attend a sit-in picnic at Millennium Galleries on Sunday 12th February. There were handmade murals and bunting, a sing-a-long, and crowds of adults and children rammed into the galleries. It was inspiring, lovely and there's more where that came from. We did right by our museums, making our feelings known. We've listened to Joni Mitchell, and we actually know what we've got before it's gone. The programs and events that allow us to feel like the museums are our headspace are the very things that will have to be cut. These funds don't keep the lights on or the doors unlocked, so they're not essential, right? But they keep our lights on and our minds open. The week after the sit-in, some Museums representatives met with the Arts Council, who have said there will be some transition funding to cover the next few months, and also discussed applying for a small amount of Strategic Support Funding in September. Chief Executive Nick Dodd shared this on the museums' blog after that meeting: 'Any advances made in our negotiations with the Arts Council are in no small part due to the heartfelt, vocal support of the public, who continue to demonstrate the importance of the museums and galleries to their city. On behalf of the people of Sheffield, we and our partners will continue to do our utmost to secure the best possible museums service for the city.' Come on, Arts Council, pony up. We need our headspace. If you do right by us, we may even invite you round to play. Chella Quint is a comedy writer and performer based in Sheffield. She loves all the museums in Sheffield, but the Graves Art Gallery is her favourite. [email protected] )

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