Bringing our heritage to a wider audience

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Bodelwyddan Castle entrance

Bodelwyddan Castle. Its partnership wit the National Portrait Gallery is ending

I have moaned in the past that our galleries and museums show hardly any of the artwork that is owned in our name. It sits in vaults and vast storage areas and hardly ever is loaned out. Regardless of what is said, seeing a painting in the flesh so to speak is a thousand times better to seeing it online.

One such agreement has been functioning for nearly thirty years allowing works from the National Portrait Gallery in London to be seen at Bodelwyddan Castle, near Rhyl in North Wales.

There we were able to see works of art that previously could only be seen in London and then only when it was hung and not shut away in the basement. That agreement has now ended due to a funding cut by Denbighshire County Council. A 40% annual funding cut imposed on the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust means that the Trust would have to raise £224,000 a year to continue the arrangement because of the high costs of providing the right conditions and monitored environment for the 155 paintings.

Allowing our artworks to be seen more widely should be part of the policy of every gallery and museum. Failure to do so, in my opinion, would make them in breach of the reasons why they function.

How are we to encourage the collections held on our behalf to be seen elsewhere I our countries? Up till now councils have funded this and continued pressure on finances is likely to cause similar issues.

The Art Fund is a body that is interested in art in all forms. It assists museums and galleries in acquiring art they cannot afford on their own. Occasionally the fund has to announce a public appeal to save things that might be lost to the nation like the Staffordshire Hoard or one of the versions of the famous paintings of Queen Elizabeth I. Could not a portion of their funds be used to support travelling exhibitions or loans of rarely seen works? An alternative would be for the Heritage Lottery Fund to use some of their monies. Or the Department for Culture etc could find the funds from its resources. It makes outreach as a condition of its grant to the Royal Opera House. The condition could be widened.

If it costs only £244,000 to operate the system that Bodelwyddan Castle operated with the National Portrait Gallery then a sum of less than £2.5 million would allow ten such schemes to operate around our countries. As it generates employment, grants may be available from local community foundations. The final option I suggest is that those museums and galleries holding the largest quantity in storage be made to donate them to museums and galleries capable of displaying and caring for them.

As Ken Davies, the chair of Bodelwyddan Castle Trust, said: “it sees the end of an arrangement that really benefited local residents, whether through the partnership’s general education work or the economic benefits that it brought to the area.”

The more to see, the more visitors come. More visitors means more trade in a local community and more employment. As it is, the ending of the agreement will mean the loss of seven jobs as well. Given how much money has been spent by the Department for Work & Pensions on job creation, £244,000 for seven jobs looks like a better investment than some they have championed.

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