Friday, 30 January 2009

The Battle of The Museum of Oxford

What town or city in its right mind closes down the museum of its OWN civic history?

That little backwater known as 'Oxford' it would seem.

Despite the fact that the Museum of Oxford costs a mere £200,000 per year to run, and the only other source of local (town and gown) history 'The Oxford Story' - a hugely popular Disneyfied rollercoaster through Oxford's history on moving school desks has (oddly) closed down - the City Council in its wisdom is wielding an axe to this unprepossessing little museum nestled next to the Town Hall in the name of 'cost cutting', and without we taxpayers' consent.

Fair enough the MoO hasn't been modernised in years, but that's exactly why some of us like it. Too much refurbishment and interactive display can RUIN a museum. A couple of years ago I finally got round to visiting the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, only to find that it had become SO interactive and child-centred, there was virtually nothing left for grown-ups to look at. I came away feeling it a poor tribute to our once-proud seafaring nation.

Ironically enough two of Oxford's other museums, The Ashmolean (art and archeology) and the Pitt Rivers (anthropological history) are currently closed for multi-million pound refurbishments. Doubtless funded by donors, but ironic how bucketfuls of money can be spent on those, doubtless to their architectural detriment, but not a few pennies on the Museum of Oxford, no siree, not even for an ADVERTISING budget! Is it any wonder that it is not getting the footfall it deserves when it is almost being deliberately run into the ground, and granted no sensible and obvious connecting corridor to the next door Town Hall with its gallery, cafe and public conveniences either?

Following local press interest and the intervention of Oxford Civic Society with volunteer help, the Museum of Oxford has won a temporary reprieve for one year, but will still lose the majority of its staff, and its only hope of survival after that will be the formation of a Charitable Trust in time, to take it off the council's hands entirely. Which will in turn no doubt require an admission charge to subsidise, making it the city's only charging museum. As for new interactive exhibits presumably there was a job lot of these going when 'The Oxford Story' closed down.

Meanwhile I hear an expensive Czar of Culture has been hired by the Council to oversee its shrinking culture. Spot the obvious Council cost-saving, anyone?


Lucy Fishwife said...

You're right, it makes no sense at all, particularly somewhere as hugely tourist-festooned as Oxford. You'll probably find they've had an offer for the building.

Betty said...

The smaller museums in a city tend to be the best ones. Sadly, it seems that authorities think that the only way to get huge numbers through the doors is by becoming interactive and "dynamic" and piling on all the whizz bang technical stuff. Apparently, nowadays children are bored with anything less than CGI animation. God forbid that they'd have to read something!

teeni said...

That is so sad. I hate seeing things like this happening. And I think those interactive museums should be a totally different animal and not incorporated into every museum as though it were an amusement park. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy those interactive things too, especially to bring the kids to, but each has its place. Sheesh. Soon there will have to be a museum for museums.

Wisewebwoman said...

Gosh I just love those tiny museums, there is always so much to explore and investigage. Sexing them up may be in the best ADD interests of the children but a slow perusal is such a joy!
I was so sorry to hear of this!

Brother Tobias said...

I do agree with you. Our little town museum is a treasure house - its chief concession to interactivity a 'feely box' where children can handle proper exhibits. sadly I'm often the only person in there.

Anonymous said...

OH I hate all that interactive stuff and avoid those places like the plague.

My children do like them but they are also very happy to just visit old churches and traditional museums. I think children get as tired of all that stuff as adults to. Well, mine do anyway. My mother always tried to take them to "child-friendly" places so they have their dose of that with her - I never visit such things.

Poor old museum - not that I have ever been in it.

Nota Bene said...

No doubt the councillors are the sort of people who've never set foot in it; not a difficult decision for them. What a shame...let's hope something can be sorted in the next 12 months

The Sagittarian said...

Hahah, am laughing at BT's comment, it reads like he's in the "feely box".

Now then, seriously...such a shame that the "powers that be' think they can rob the citizens of their cultural history like that. Good luck with overturning the decision!

Steve said...

When the chips hit the ground (or just plain out) culture is always the first area that Local Authorities feel they can make "justifiable" cuts. Like culture and art is a luxury rather than a necessity and a right.

Steve said...

Plain run out that should have been... it isn't my business to go around outing chips...

Rol said...

Guess that's what you get for living in one of those concrete-infested new towns with no sense of its own heritage. ;-)

It'd never happen in Huddersfield...

mantua maker said...

Have they said what will happen to the collection when/if the museum finally closes? One scenario is that they shunt all the items into storage at taxpayers' expense, then councillors grumble that the taxpayers haven't got access to things that they are paying to store, then a big lottery bid or something is made for a fancy new building, plus interactive gizmos, but the same number of people or fewer visit, then fancy new museum gets shut down....when they could just have left well alone with what they had in the first place.

I haven't been there for twenty/thirty years, maybe I'll pop if I'm in Oxford this year. But if they've already opened up the Town Hall a bit more with cafe and toilets then I like your idea of creating access to the Museum from that, is it still just a little staircase down from Blue Boar Street? Just think how many tourists and Oxford residents walk down St Aldates and not know that it's there!

As for the prize for worst interactive museum, I award it to the Fleet Air Arm Musuem in Somerset. Admittedly I wasn't that interested in the first place, just went along with the husband, but it was pandemonium in there. Every exhibit had to have a very noisy soundtrack - in not one gallery was there PEACE AND QUIET, even in the art exhibition. At one point, to move to through the exhibits you had to go in a simulated helicopter ride to a pretend aircraft carrier. Well I wasn't having that and managed to push in a door that said "No Entry" and went up some back stairs. But the husband, who I'd long left to go at his own pace, ended up doing it. (Okay he possibly quite enjoyed it). When I read the feedback comments in the visitors' book it turns out that everybody thought the musuem was great, the interactive stuff fantastic etc.

So I don't know, maybe people really want that and that's why musuem curators are going down the interactive route.

The Dotterel said...

I took Sally to the Jorvic museum a year or two ago, and was utterly dismayed to see that ALL the children and most of the adults simply wanted to push 'touch-screen' buttons and play video games. No-one was looking at a single artefact! In a museum!

garfer said...

Ancient Universities?

Hooray Harvard.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Lucy Fishwife - well since it's connected to the Town Hall that might mean the whole building is under offer - scary thought! And I thought I was cynical!

Betty, I often think that the over-stimulation of the young is leading to ridiculously high and unrealistic expectations in later life, leading to all this depression and unhappiness when they find that real life cannot match up.

A museum for museums? Sobering thought Teeni. Perish the thought!

WWW - yes, 'modern' museums are forgetting their core market by just appealing to the under-12s. And the parent is cheated out of the pleasure of providing the interactive explanation of the artefact!

A 'feely box' is quite ample as a concession to children BT! Who don't tend to like being patronised anyway.

What splendidly sophisticated children you have RB!

Nota Bene - you may have a point there. If the local football club was council-owned, I doubt it'd be for the chop!

Sagittarian - well I'm just a tiny cog in the rescue plan - I hope! Though might set up an online petition.

Steve, it is also one of the few tangible things and rare public spaces that the public sees for their council tax. That alone should boost a museum's value as one of the only visible free-entry amenities.

Yes Rol, I've heard of that cultural mecca known as 'Huddersfield'!

Thanks for dropping by Mantua. I'm sure something that crazy is within the realms of possibility. Poverty is pleaded, but money can soon be found for some ghastly ill-conceived 'landmark' building even less fit for purpose than the 'old-fashioned' edifice it crudely supplants.

Dottrel that is disappointing - more an amusement arcade than a museum by the sound of it.

Does Harvard manage to avoid such short-sightedness Garfer? I do hope so.