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Former curator claims Bristol heritage ‘threatened’

May 19, 2009

A former curator at the Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery claims Bristol could be left unable to look after its own history, unless new plans for the city’s museum service are scrapped.

The city council is currently discussing major changes to the way the city’s museum service is run and staffed. They could mean the numbers of conservation staff cut by 3/4 and curators cut by 1/3rd.

Former geology curator Dr Tim Ewin claims this would mean Bristol is no longer able to look after geology collections and natural history exhibits such as dinosaurs.

He said: “They’re absolving themselves of their responsibility to maintain the current world heritage of Bristol. It really will culminate in irreparable damage to Bristol’s heritage.”

The new plans were formed by senior museum managers towards the end of last year, partly because of the Museum of Bristol project, currently being built on the site of the old industrial museum.

Managers want a radical shift in the way the service works, changing from collections of historical objects to community history and visual art. This requires fewer expert staff.

The loss of those staff is what most concerns Dr Ewin. He claims it would mean Bristol being unable to house a major dinosaur find if one were made near the city, and it would have to go elsewhere.

He denies art is more popular than natural history, saying: “Let’s not do natural history and archaeology down. They’re some of the most popular television programmes. When you look at visitor numbers at other museums, the Natural History museum has something like 3.6m visitors a year, so you can’t say people aren’t interested.

“And when you look at the global media interest that accompanied Bristol’s acquisition of the Scelidosaurus, Britain’s best-preserved dinosaur, that far outweighed the publicity for any of the arts initiatives to date.

“The people of Bristol have just as much right to see dinosaurs, Alfred the gorilla, and their archaeological and industrial heritage as well as art.”

The plans have been vigorously opposed by current staff at the museum, with over 80% signing a complaint letter to the council committee set up to discuss the plans.

It’s also thought that opening hours at most of the city museums, including the Red Lodge and Blaise, could be cut in a bid to save money. It’s believed the Museum of Bristol project is over budget and has created a need for extra savings elsewhere in the service.

Original asked Bristol City Council to comment, but a spokesman said they would not do so until the committee examining the plans has published its report. This is expected by the end of June.

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