Leading figures in the museum, art and craft worlds are reacting to the proposed cuts and restructuring of the Potteries Museum and the Gladstone Museum by Stoke-on-Trent City Council with concerns that crucial expertise will be lost.
The plans, announced in early January, would mean one team running both institutions and the Gladstone Museum being repurposed as a film location for five months of the year, saving the council a potential £560,000 a year for the next five years. About 19 full-time staff would be cut across the city's museums service, while 5.5 new roles would be created. Among the loses would be two ceramics curator posts, which would be replaced with a single new role titled 'curator - contemporary collecting’ for a new or remaining curator.
‘One person managing what is a highly complex collection, with all its curatorial and conservational needs, would be spread thinly over the two sites,’ artist, educator and researcher Neil Brownsword told the Crafts Council. The Stoke-on-Trent based practitioner, who has worked with both museums over a period of years and is currently exhibiting work at the Potteries Museum, pointed out that museums are part of the ecosystem of ceramics in the city. ‘They facilitate research and provide the kind of grounding students need. The detailed history of place, scale and labour, the kind of identity the industry brings to the place is all rooted within those two museums. My worry is that once you get rid of expertise, it's very hard to replace.’
A petition, launched in response to the announcement from Stoke-on-Trent City Council currently has 21,876 signatures and is rising fast, and there have been widespread calls in the press and on social media asking the council to reconsider the proposals. Many echo Brownsword’s comments that one curator would struggle to handle the demands of a role of this level, which would typically encompass not only acquisitions but also international relations, loans, strategy and creative and logistical planning.
But Peter Knot, area director of Arts Council England, asserts that the proposals are not set in stone. ‘Stoke City Council’s plans are currently at the consultation stage, and we await the outcome of these proposals,’ he said in a statement. ‘Arts Council England recognises the value that culture, and creativity brings to Stoke-on-Trent and the surrounding areas, which is why Arts Council has made Stoke-on-Trent a priority place.’