Media Museum in decline

It’s been a year since the good people of Bradford rallied to support the National Media Museum, then under threat of closure by bosses at the Science Museum (run by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport) in London.

Twelve months on visitor numbers continue to decline. The latest figures suggest just 480,000 people passed through its doors last year, a big fall on the 737,851 recorded in 2008.

Museum management claim visitors to galleries and exhibitions are up by eight per cent on last year and that visits by families and adults are increasing. The decrease, said NMeM director Jo Quinton-Tulloch, is down to the museum’s cinema operation and IMAX.

The NMeM is a free museum. Its exhibitions and galleries cost money to run and curate. And money has not been handed out freely by London. The film operation, potentially a huge revenue generator, appears not to have been adequately funded for many years. And with two out of the museum’s four film festivals being axed – Bite the Mango bit the dust in 2010 and the Fantastic Films Weekend in 2011 – the future for film does not look good.

The big question mark is over IMAX. No-one is asking how long the IMAX contract has to run and why equipment has not been upgraded to digital. Is it merely expense or something more physical, such as the make-up of the building?

And in the world’s first UNESCO City of Film why are film festivals in decline rather than in rude health? 

If people don’t want to visit this once mighty institution than something is clearly very wrong. Investment is needed. Rumours that the museum’s cinemas are to be handed over to the ODEON group may not be accurate but if DCMS can’t or won’t support the NMeM then perhaps opting out of film may be a way forward.

But what a shame to see such a great attraction struggling to survive.  

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One thought on “Media Museum in decline

  1. As you say Tony, the situation at the NMeM is very sad indeed, and it has all the appearance of a dead museum walking. Yes, people rallied to the cause a year ago, but unfortunately the Science Museum and its paymasters at the DCMS will care only about footfall and cashflow. The writing was on the wall when the ‘Media Space’ was created at the Science Museum in London, so that major exhibitions of photography and film could be exhibited there first. OK, they might come back to Bradford afterwards, but it sort of makes a mockery of the idea of having a NATIONAL Museum of Photography, Film and Television up here.

    OK – we all know Bradford isn’t the easiest place to get to by public transport from the North and South of Great Britain. I guess we also all admit that the city itself isn’t even the first place tourists might have on their itinerary when they visit West Yorkshire. But before too long it will have a major shopping centre to go with its National Museum; hopefully the Odeon will be refurbished and re-opened as an entertainment venue; and there are even ambitious plans for a market in tunnels under the city centre. Above all, it is the first UNESCO city of film, and last year the BFI hosted the launch of a collaboration between Bradford College and Whistling Woods international film school [though sadly that launch took place in London!]

    So the NMeM’s situation calls for bravery from the Science museum rather than backing away; for ideas rather than isolationism. We cinephiles love the 3-screen setup that allows the museum to show every film format as well as any genre from small-audience arthouse to blockbuster 3D IMAX, but maybe that access can still be retained if the right deal is done with the Odeon Group. They get a major presence in the City Centre [alongside all the free advertising they’re getting from the name of the building just down the road!] and we get to keep [most of] our programme. The museum might lose something on food and drink, but audiences love that overpriced multiplex stuff, so let the Odeon take over the Pictureville bar completely! They also get their hands on a city centre IMAX screen [and a true one at that] where the programme might be strengthened by their buying power. It would be nice to think that the Cubby at least could be retained by the Museum, and a suitably ambitious/arthouse/alternative programme screened there. [Get Reel Solutions on the job!]

    What I would really like to see the NMeM diversify into, is temporary film and TV exhibitions. I know they’ve used up all their space now, but some of it could be re-allocated to touring or one-off exhibitions related to really popular programmes. With immensely popular franchises like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Marvel Universe, Twilight, Transformers pulling in the crowds and Star Wars returning, a regular programme of even small-ish exhibitions of iconic material displayed in imaginatively set-related conditions would, I am convinced, put Bradford squarely ON the tourist map, no matter how difficult the transport, or how apparently under-resourced the City centre. Add TV programmes like A Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Sherlock or a proper Dr Who exhibition and the scope is endless, as well as the incoming finance.

    I can see all the objections already – not least the amount of cash that would no doubt be demanded from franchise owners, studios and producers, the time, the logistics, the space, the ‘Bradford’ question. But I can also see the advertisers and sponsors wanting to come on board, the spinoff merchandising, the volunteers willing to get involved as guides, or costumed extras. If there is any doubt, they could always ask Gary Verity about how all those issues must have cropped up when people told him getting the Tour de France to Yorkshire would be impossible. Let’s use that as an inspiration, and start a new NMeM chapter – when I saw Gary at the Welcome to Yorkshire Y14 event in Harrogate in March there was an implication that he might be looking for a new challenge. If it isn’t to be Leeds United, maybe it could be the NMeM. If the Science Museum aren’t up to it, but would just hire out the space, then perhaps it could be done privately.

    Anyway – thanks for letting me get that off my chest! Good to see your profile’s still high in the media and at festivals – and maybe now I’ve started, I might refine my arguments/ideas and bung them in the Museum’s suggestion box!

    Bob Brook

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