So, much of the writing here is likely to be related to Manchester, as it was my home for a number of years and is also the focus of my current research. My new home, however, is Sheffield, and since moving here in August 2011 it’s been difficult to ignore some of the differences between the two cities. Often these differences are positives – for both cities – but recently a serious negative has occurred. It is by now widely known that in its recent review of funding, Arts Council England has withdrawn its support for the city I now call home, with Museums Sheffield losing out on £1.4 million per year. Along with a number of other cities, Manchester will still be receiving ACE support (for Manchester Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery), but Museums Sheffield has been left out in the cold. To make matters worse, neighbouring areas in the East Midlands such as Leicester and Nottingham have also been overlooked, effectively creating a funding blackspot across a large area of the country.
Whilst there has been some sense of a reprieve (namely an increase in transitional funding from the Arts Council in order to soften the blow – an extra £341,000 to cover the next four months), the long term prognosis remains the same: more redundancies, less scope for attracting high profile exhibitions, fewer outreach programmes. Last month I attended one of Sheffield City Council’s open meetings on the upcoming budget, where I left with mixed feelings in my slightly heavy heart; despite facing extensive cuts themselves, SCC will be maintaining their level of funding for Museums Sheffield for the 2012/13 period. The overwhelming feeling from officials was that they are fully aware of the benefits of the arts, from attracting tourism to increasing opportunities to improving wellbeing – support which is, of course, greatly appreciated. Yet in the face of widespread cuts, there are justifiable fears that this cash standstill can’t continue in the longer term; that prognosis still looms, and it looks none too rosy.
It can’t all be doom and gloom, however, and support for Museums Sheffield from across the city and further afield has brightened moods and strengthened resolve. Donations across Museums Sheffield sites in February 2012 were up 100% from the same period last year; the Shefftopia Picnic (held at Millennium Gallery on Sunday 12th February) saw numerous locals take part in this creative protest; there’s certainly no shortage of support for the arts in this city. So if you’re a Sheffield resident, or if you’re just passing through, find the time to make a visit to the city’s great cultural assets. Millennium Gallery, Graves Gallery and Weston Park Museum (along with numerous other galleries which aren’t a part of Museums Sheffield) are free to visit, but why not make a donation while you’re there – I’m sure you’ll agree that the exhibitions on offer – as well as the chance to learn from enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff – are well worth your money and your time.