THE WORD Why Stoke Council’s proposal to axe its curators is wrong
AI’s revelation that Stoke-on-Trent City Council intends to make its two. ceramics curators - among 19 museum employees - redundant, reduce opening hours for its two pottery museums and close one of them to the public for five months of the year so that it can be used as a film and TV set met with a storm of protest, including a petition which has so far accumulated more than 20,000 signatures.
The two museums, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the Gladstone Museum of Pottery, which had Christmas closures lengthened because of the growing Covid infections, are due to reopen respectively today and January 20, and the proposals are out for consultation until February 14.
Meanwhile, Robin Emmerson, a visual arts lecturer specialising in ceramics has sent the council his analysis of the likely effects of deleting ceramic posts in the context of its own published plans. This is the argument he has put before Stoke City Council.
Stoke-on-Trent Council has decided to axe its two ceramics curator posts at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the Gladstone Museum. How will this decision contribute to its plan for the city, which it has published as Powering Up Stoke-on-Trent, a Prospectus to secure Participation and Investment (Powering_up_Stoke_V6.0_proof.pdf)?
The graphic on the front of the document shows a group of buildings, centred on the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. The heading in the Foreword says “priority sectors will include digital, advanced manufacturing (especially ceramic components), green energy and creative”. Where We Start says the key strengths include “5.1 million visits a year to local attractions and museums”.
Section 9 is Culture, Tourism, Libraries and Museums. The first key priority is listed as “provide outstanding libraries and museums, and maximise the use of library and museum services across the city”. In the list of 14 key actions, however, museums are only mentioned in item 10: “Working with Plan colleagues, deliver the Spitfire Restoration Project and new gallery development at PMAG”. The previous nine key actions are about libraries.
‘A museum’s greatest asset is not its collections
but its expert staff’
The pottery collections in the Potteries Museum are the basis not only of the museum’s identity but of the city’s identity as the Potteries. The international importance of the pottery collections is greater than that of all the museum’s other collections. It is the basis of the museum’s draw to international tourists. This draw should be exploited and made much greater. Instead the council will axe both the ceramic curator posts which create that draw and which can bring in the international tourists. This is an appalling own goal.
A museum’s greatest asset is not its collections but its expert staff. Without their expert knowledge of the collections, the collections will be useless to Stoke-on-Trent. You will have nobody who can select and interpret them in displays, exhibitions and publications. The museum’s international reputation will nosedive like a doomed Spitfire. For God’s sake don’t do this! Stoke-on-Trent’s ceramic future and its ceramic past are inextricably interlinked: “Advanced manufacturing (especially ceramic)” is the story of the past and the future.
Axing the two ceramic curator posts runs directly counter to the thrust of Powering Up Stoke-on-Trent, a Prospectus to secure Participation and Investment. The decision should be reversed.