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My Message to Bradford

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by Jo Quinton-Tulloch, Director of the National Media Museum

The last week has shown again how much this Museum means to Bradford, and how much it owes to Bradford.

Unsurprisingly it brought to my mind 2013, when this Museum really was under threat of closure. Years of declining visitor figures and a major cut in funding to the Science Museum Group – almost 30% in real terms since 2010 – had left us at a point where the unthinkable was becoming a very real possibility. At that point, you made your voices heard, telling the government – and us – that you would do everything you could to keep the Museum here in Bradford.

Single lens camera 2

Single lens camera

This week, when we announced that we were planning to transfer a comparatively small – but significant – part of our photography collection to the V&A in London, I knew that for some of you it would come as unwelcome news. A loss of something precious and prestigious.

It’s hard to hear some of the criticism of this decision, but I also know that if there were no petitions, no press interest, no Tweets, and no disagreement, it would mean that no one in Bradford cared. And then we really would be in trouble.

In my many conversations with colleagues, fellow commuters, visitors to the Museum, MPs, Councillors and journalists, I’ve tried my hardest to explain how we came to this decision and why I believe that the future for this Museum – Bradford’s National Museum – looks brighter than it’s been in a long time. I’d like to take this opportunity to share that vision with you, but first give you some context.

Since 2013, we’ve had to make some really major changes to ensure that we wouldn’t be in such a perilous position again. At first that meant cutting running costs. So we moved from rented office space to a smaller footprint in the main Museum building, and we had the difficult job of making some reductions in staffing. We also found ways to raise our commercial revenues, which saw us going into partnership with Picturehouse to operate our cinemas. We then negotiated a £780,000 loan with DCMS to upgrade our IMAX theatre (the first anywhere in Europe when it opened in 1983) to digital, so that we could show ALL of the best big screen releases, rather than one or two a year.

By far the most important change we have undergone has been to clarify our focus. We are part of the Science Museum Group. Our new mission is to explore the science and culture of light and sound. This means using our world-class collections in photography, cinematography and television to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers from Bradford, Yorkshire and beyond. And part of this refocus means concentrating our resources on what we do best, and what we are obliged to do – be a museum. Museums are and can be many things, including places of entertainment and art, but at their heart they are places that conserve and preserve historic collections on their specialist subject areas, to inspire and educate future generations. In a time of limited resources and as we refocus our mission, we can no longer do everything we once did.

We started this journey over 18 months ago. Since then we have changed our schools programmes to concentrate on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), supported by investment from Bradford Council which has ensured we are able to dramatically extend the work we do in the district. We received funding from Government to deliver three contemporary science festivals which were hugely successful and we initiated a new programme of Lates. We were a key partner in the Bradford Science Festival and a host venue for the Fringe programme, which showcased some of the best research from the University of Bradford and the UK.

Design for the new interactive gallery 1

Design for new interactive gallery

The decision to transfer the Royal Photographic Society collection – as well as some other photography holdings that can broadly be described as ‘art photography’ – came from two powerful motives: firstly, the need to focus our activity and our limited resources on those areas of our collection that can best help us explore the science and technology of light and sound and secondly to ensure that those collections that don’t directly help us to do that – like the RPS collection – find a home where they can be accessed and enjoyed by the public and researchers alike. The RPS collection is a treasure trove of its kind – and a wonderful public asset for the UK. I believe its transfer secures the best future for that collection, as well as helping to secure the long-term future of this Museum.

When the transfer is complete – towards the end of this year – we will still have a collection of over 3 million photography objects. 3 million objects. We will, for example retain photographic collections such as the Kodak Collection – which charts the development of the photographic process; The Daily Herald Archive – a unique newspaper archive that demonstrates the cultural impact of photography; and the Impressions Gallery Archive – a wonderful collection that is so very relevant to Bradford. These are all nationally significant photographs, many of which haven’t had prominence to date. We will also continue to hold many truly unique; astounding world firsts – such as the equipment used by John Logie Baird to make the first true television pictures; and the cameras used by Louis Le Prince in Leeds to capture the first ever moving images.

As well as the Collections transfer there has been news about the International Film Festival. I’d like to reiterate that Film remains a very important part of our future plans, but our festival programme as it stood, was unsustainable. We are continuing to do film festivals of international stature – such as an extended Widescreen Weekend – that welcome guest speakers and cinemagoers from around the world. We are proud that Bradford is a UNESCO City of Film, and we truly welcome opportunities to work with other organisations who can help us make this City the place to see and experience film.

So my focus is on the future. Over the next year, with a £1.5m investment from the Science Museum Group, we will be creating a world-class interactive gallery to bring the science of light, sound and perception to life. It is the single biggest investment in the Museum since 2010 and I hope it gives the loudest possible response to those people who have asked me “Is the Museum about to close?”

This gallery will breathe new life into the Museum – a Museum that will always be defined by its collections and as an inspiring place for future generations. And looking forward we are already planning for the next major investment – a new object rich gallery – what we’re calling a Treasures Gallery – that will for the first time bring together all of those extraordinary objects in our collection that can tell the complete story of the development of light and sound technologies.

Stick with us. I want to make you all as proud of this Museum as it’s possible to be.

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  1. Maxwell Polanski

    It all went downhill since you got rid of The Magic Carpet

  2. Ian

    I’m not from Bradford, Jo. I live in Sheffield and I’m afraid I’m not proud of the decisions being made about this National Museum which has always combined the artistic, the scientific and cultural history and embraced diverse audiences. This isn’t a battle between Bradford versus London, this is something of importance for the whole of the country and for the North in particular.
    The decisions currently being made do not, in my opinion, serve the interests of the majority of the UK nor the interests of the Museum’s collections. They do not, I feel, honour the fine work the Museum has done in previous decades nor safeguard its future. I know I’m not alone in these feelings.
    If you continue to narrow the focus and strip the assets of the institution you kill it by degrees. There’s no pride at all to be had there.

    1. rhbblog

      Well said.

  3. Anonymous

    You are very specific about what items will stay but less so about what the museum will lose. Why is this?

  4. Anonymous

    The long-debated question “Who holds the national collection of photography?” is now answered (Report, 2 February). So a national institution in Bradford, set up to celebrate photography in all its forms, gives up its collection to the V&A, which opened a gallery dedicated to the miniskirt before a permanent space for photography. The V&A’s promise to double its tiny space for photography is hardly a cause for celebration for those of us who have long wished for a dedicated museum. For nearly 200 years, photography has been revolutionising art and the way we perceive the world. Instead of embracing this, the powers that be have relegated it to a minor subsection of a museum devoted to the decorative arts. The lack of vision is depressing.
    Neil Burgess

    Via The Guardian letters, 2/2/2016

  5. Anonymous

    Who speaks for photography? Who defends photography? Who understands it and looks after it and realises that its not about the art or science of photography – it’s about both, and lots more too! Photography spans art, science, news, family life, heritage, history and just about everything else you can think of. Splitting it into art and science makes no sense at all. We should be reinstating the National Museum of Photography in Bradford – with a photography specialist heading it up – someone who can understand and speak for its fabulous diversity. Someone who can develop understanding of it rather than go for the easy option. Someone who understands why it should be defended and developed. The Science Museum shouldn’t be running The Media Museum. The V&A shouldn’t be holding the (world’s?) most important collection of photographs. A separate National Museum of Photography should be doing this job. We could call it The New National Museum of Photography and Guts.

    I posted this on Facebook yesterday. It’s been shared 26 times since then, in less than 24 hours.

  6. Sven Shaw

    It’s an atrocious act of cultral theft the Earl of Elgin would have been proud, more treaures being packed up and shipped down south for those great cosmopolitans who can appreciate them more than us knit infested northern monkeys. Shame on you and shame on the museum.

  7. Wenna

    Comes across as a bit insulting and patronising tbh. This is little more than asset stripping the North to feed the bloated cultural coffers of the South. Add to that the announcement that you’re cancelling the film festival and it feels as if we aren’t far away from an announcement that the Museum will close due to ‘falling visitor numbers’….just as planned a couple of years back. Cutting culture from the equation is pure nonsense. Absolutely short sighted and a real slap in the face for the cultural community of the City who were the main group to stand up for you when you were on the way out.

  8. Christine Edmonds

    You state that the decision to transfer the RPS collection will safeguard the future of the Museum, but I don’t understand your logic. How can the transfer of a prestigious photographic collection away from the National Media Museum in Bradford be a good thing, either for the Museum, or for Bradford or for the North in general?

    1. Lesley

      Cos they are part of Science Museum group focusing on science of media technology now…not appreciation of art/culture of photographs. The north already has a science museum in Manchester in same family. We don’t need another in Bradford. We need a museum dedicated to the art and culture of photographs, film, TV and media. BFI ought to take it on!

  9. Tim Appelbee

    Setting up a dichotomy between Art and Science betrays the essential core of the phenomenon. Losing the Film Festival is just one more kick in the teeth. If it is the case that just not enough people currently use the Museum then at least openly challenge Bradford and West Yorkshire to ‘use it or lose it’.

  10. John Goodyear

    Has it occurred to you to ask the people of Bradford what thay want? Because I can tell you right now we don’t want a STEM museum, we are the first UNESCO city of film, the national museum of photography, film and television was an icon and despite the name change it is the cultural history of those three elements which people in this city consider most important. You have taken us in 6 short years from 4 film festivals and a truly unique slate of films to a glorified Cineworld, not even having the sense to maintain the celluloid IMAX projector in situ on the often used rsil system to provide what is still the ultimate IMAX presentation. And now you begin dispersing the collection without ant consultation despite being kept open partly due to a Bradford council grant.

    We do not want the National Media Museum closed by stealth through a name change, we want a National Media Museum and if you, and by extension the Science Museum Group, do not want to run a museum based around the nations media heritage then perhaps responsibility for the NMM should be taken away from you, I’m sure the BFI or Bradford Council would be happy to take the reigns.

  11. Paul Barrow

    Very good !! Keep up the great work your doing .

  12. Simon Whalley

    Hi, I know that you are passionate about doing great work and making the Media Museum successful into the future, so I hope all goes well! I guess as a Northern Artist/Photographer, I would like to see some mention of Art in the future direction of the NMM, it seems almost entirely focussed on science subjects. The other factor for anyone living in the North is the bigger agenda that spending on the South per head in every category of govt. is disproportionate, and the Northern Powerhouse is a govt joke. I’d be interested if any objects within the Museum group that support your vision are being transferred from the South to Bradford. All the best, Simon

  13. Jane Dale

    I’ve read your post, and then saw “About the National Media Museum – … we explore the science, technology and art of the still and moving image” So the question remains – why move any of the photography archive when you claim to be a museum about the still and moving image? The north has a science museum in Manchester; the Media Museum is different. Bradford is rightly proud of the Media Museum and the amazing internationally renowned photographic archive and we want it to stay in Bradford. If people want to access it for research purposes, they will just have to come to Bradford! You talk about the transfer as a cost saving exercise so I would be interested to know exactly how much money will be saved as a result of this. It seems to be that the transfer is the start of a slippery slope to asset stripping the museum, and then the question will be asked, can the north sustain 2 science museums? The answer will be no. The Media Museum will close and its archives will be scattered between the Manchester and London Science Museums. And then Bradford will be the home to yet another empty, soon to be derelict building.

  14. Caroline Powell

    “We will also continue to hold many truly unique; astounding world firsts – such as the equipment used by John Logie Baird to make the first true television pictures.”

    Whilst at the same making his relative, an expert in this field, redundant as well as many other talented and dedicated staff. There are also plenty of contemporary photographers throughout the UK, that have supported this museum through thick and thin, who right now feel you have betrayed them. You have lost all credibility.

    Shame on you and shame on SMG.

  15. rhbblog

    So you ignore the ‘and culture’ part of the brief? Please don’t assume it only matters to people in Bradford, either. There is an issue of policy underlying this decision of importance to the north and the country as a whole.
    This is just a bad decision on so many counts….
    – Why perpetuate the unhelpful artificial division between art and science?
    – Do we detect an unsubtle implication that ‘northern mill-fodder folk’ should get the stuff about science and craft as we wouldn’t appreciate the finer cultural aspects of ‘art’?
    – Why assume that National has to mean London? I live in the Midlands and the RPS collection will be much less accessible for me and many others.
    – At a time when photography is more popular and significant than ever, it would seem that the NMM should be embracing the opportunities, not reducing options.

    Like Ian below, I feel this is the first step in reducing the focus and impact of the museum: it certainly sends the message that you’re no longer ‘National’.

    Please reconsider.

  16. Steve H

    In October 2013 the Arts Council of London (sorry, Britain), issued their ‘Response To Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital: Arts Council investment outside London’ (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/pdf/Arts_Council_England_response_to_Rebalancing_our_Cultural_Capital_Report_October_2013.pdf).

    Way back then London’s great and good apparently thought that, ‘In the current climate, we believe it is best to strengthen capacity outside London rather than weakening investment in the capital.’

    Two years later, we now know what ‘rebalancing’ really means: sending Bradford’s only national cultural asset for the enjoyment of the downtrodden billionaires of South Kensington.

    As if we should have thought it ever meant anything else.

  17. Stephen G

    Jo, until I read your blog, I was under the impression, as relayed by the press that the planwas to reunite a collection that was split at the formation of the V&A and Science Museum. Your blog tells us that the RPS collection will now be held by the V&A. Until this collection came to Bradford it was held by the RPS. The RPS trusted the NMM with the collection rather than consign it to a cultural cellar in London.
    The museum is to focus on STEM you say. Apart from being a temporary fad, you will transfer the world’s first photographic negative to a design museum. What could be stemmier than that.
    Clearly there has been massive arm twisting and, my guess, threats from the mandarins and panjandrums underlying this sorry.
    I’d like to hear your comments on my specific points, but I understand that its unlikely that you will feel able to under the circumstances. However I would urge you to remember that what you dont tell people, they will make up.

  18. Anonymous

    Sounds patronising
    We know when we are being sold a croc
    It was a great film and photography museum now it sounds like some schools programme version of the Science museum in London

  19. Bev Morton

    For me, the issue centres around who makes the decisions, for what purpose and who ultimately owns them. The audience for the National Media Museum sits there in its title and clearly what the NMM does has to deliver up to that as well as an international standard. I also believe we live in different times, where we are need to be more accountable for the decisions that affect our shared resources. The time has gone where organisations can justify making decisions without real dialogue with those who have a meaningful value and investment in them. This has to go beyond the obvious quangos, institutions and processes. Using our resources to best effect is non-negotiable now and I believe we have to be more robust in our decision making than ever before.
    The people in Bradford District and everyone else who really cares are essential stakeholders,, they value NMM and have done so for decades. Wouldn’t it be an exciting proposition where an organisational of this calibre really took that to an exciting level and explored all the possibilities that that might bring. Then, perhaps, people wouldn’t kick off in the way they have because they have been included in the decison making process and would understand to a far greater depth the choices being made. It comes down to ownership and whilst ‘national’ is in the title, it’s essential.

  20. Ian Watt

    The manner in which these decisions have been made seem quite underhand and disingenuous. A complete lack of public consultation or accountability. Really sad to see Bradford loosing out in this way.

    When the theatre museum in London was closed and moved to the V&A similar platitudes were heard about how it would make the collection more accessible. Now it is hidden away in a couple of unloved and unvisited rooms in the V&A, certainly inferior to the kind of theatre museum found in other cities such as Vienna. No doubt a similar fate awaits the photography collection.

    As has been written above. I hope the museum reconsiders. and quickly.

  21. Mike Kilyon

    “The last week has shown again how much this Museum means to Bradford, and how much it owes to Bradford.”

    Yes – so please consult the people of Bradford about major changes in focus, vision and direction. I for one only became aware that the Museum was part of the science group of museums when it was recently threatened with closure. When it opened as the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television was it them part of that group? Whilst science and technology clearly are central to the subject of the museum so equally or even more importantly are art and society. Film is art, photography is art. They, and TV, the internet, newspapers, magazines and other media, cannot be properly interpreted without looking at a social context.

    “Our new mission is to explore the science and culture of light and sound.”

    That means you are deliberately throwing out the key artistic and social aspects of what were your original focus. If you make a success you will already have destroyed what it has been. There will be no place in your brave new world for a view of how social change has affected photography opt how TV has affected social change. There will be no room for showing film or photography just to show it being of the highest artistic quality.

    Your new vision has lost a rationale in the hope that a focus on science will continue to bring in funding. What about a greater vision where a really good museum that did concentrate on the artistic and social relevance of its subject could attract funding because of its high quality.

    You have described not a new vision but a lack of vision.

  22. Barry Traish

    It is great that the director of the NMM is open about the decisions and will to debate (you are going to answer the comments on your blog, aren’t you, Jo?), but it is also a shame that this is simply justification of a bad decision. Widespread condemnation and petitions by the public and MPs aren’t a sign that people care, they are the sign of a mistake.

    It’s wrong because media, in all its forms, has never been so popular. 10% of all the photos ever taken were taken in the last year. People watch more films, TV, vines and videos than ever. My own Bradford suburb of Shipley has 6,443 members in its Facebook photography group, and there are only 28,162 people living there. WHAT BRITAIN NEEDS IS A CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR FILM AND PHOTOGRAPHY. And the obvious location is Bradford.

    A science and technology museum would be great, but not at the expense of the media museum. The UNESCO City of Film designation is unlikely to survive. I see that “Science Museum North” is suggested as the new name. In competition with the other Northern science museums. Will the London Science Museum be transferring 10% of its collection to Bradford? No? Then Bradford has been swindled in giving the RPS collection to the V&A. They haven’t even applied for BFI funding for the film festival.

    I move a motion of no confidence in the trustees, before they fritter away any more of the hard-won cultural heritage located in Bradford.

  23. Imran Ali

    I think it’s time that the trusteeship of the NMM reflected the city in which it is housed. I’d like to see someone from the Impressions Gallery join that board, from Fabric, from the council and other prominent figures drawn from the city’s civic and commercial organisations.

    They can be balanced by national arts and culture figures too… the first act of this new board would be to determine whether the NMM should become independent of the Science Museum group, giving it the freedom to develop both STEM and Media focusses… creating a division between these fields is shortsighted, idiotic and doesn’t reflect the converged, blurred boundaries between them.

    In 2013, the people and politicians of Bradford spoke up to defend a beloved institution’s potential closure… now we demand a seat at the table, to govern and organisation we love and protect it from mismanagement of our cultural heritage and civic future.

  24. A Cameraman.

    It took my wife and I 23 years to FINALLY get around to making it down to Bradford (from Edinburgh) last Sunday, and I’m glad we fitted the experience around other business we had to do in the area. It would certainly not have been worth the special trip we once planned!

    By way of example… Being an ex-Thames cameraman myself, a former lecturer in TV production, and something of an enthusiast in the history of Television I was sorely disappointed in the very small section of the museum dedicated to TV…

    The exhibits seemed cobbled together by someone with absolutely no appreciation of the significance or history of what was there. And possibly no understanding of it! – Lip service! There was certainly no apparent ‘narrative’ to the exhibition. Nothing that told the story… And the selection of equipment on display seemed completely random!

    Of Baird’s heroism there was almost nothing. Certainly, it was heartening to actually see his prototypes and the Legendary Stooky Bill and Eustace. But it was left to me to explain to my daughter (and a few other visitors who tuned in) what they were actually looking at and what it did! That and a little of the rivalry that lead to the emergence of electronic television – including the fire!

    In the production zone I was also left to explain what things were and what they did… As to the story of how production equipment evolved – it just wasn’t there! I’ve NO idea how a lay-person is expected to make sense of any of it!

    Video recording? – A few odd random machines scattered around. Very few examples really with nothing to really explain the evolution from VERA (just a screen showing the same clip you can find on YouTube) through to the 2″ quad machines (one example) through to the various smaller formats…

    I did not see a solitary 1″ machine (mainstay of British broadcasting for decades)… No Umatic or Betacam machines… Save for a lonely Docked BVV high up on a shelf! Nothing on VT based Linear editing. Actually nothing of real note generally!

    TV Cameras?

    Of the Thames collection which allegedly rests at the museum I saw nothing other than what was is on the website, both examples of which pre-date most of Thames’s actual history!

    A solitary and tatty example of the legendary EMI 2001 (BBC spec) which was once the mainstay of British studio production (certainly though most people who will visit the museum’s lifetime) lurks forlornly among a few other bits and piece… Ancient CCUs and waveform monitors lurked in states of undress and abandonment for no apparent reason. – Other visitors were grateful for the fact I was able to actually explain what they were looking at and where they were placed in time!

    There were no examples of typical cameras from pre-colour times (i.e. the 60s) such as the EMI 201. And nothing to show how cameras evolved from the hulking great experimental ‘coffin’ camera through to modern day studio cameras… Certainly nothing on ENG/EFP production! My daughter wanted to see an example of what her dad ran around the streets of London with in the early 80s – I pointed to the old docked BVV on the shelf, but we have better examples of that sort of thing at home in my office! Besides which where was the HL79/BVU portable combo? Or its ilk?

    Overall the impression I gained was of a small, regional non-specialist museum where the curators had only a limited understanding of their subject matter!

    I could level similar criticisms at many of the other exhibitions… I saw little or nothing that spoke much to me about film production. Photography ( a life-long hobby I’ve pursued for over 40 years) was ‘sketchy’… Though there were plenty of old cameras; many of which I also have examples of at home! – Props? Puppets? Animation… All VERY sparse…

    Even the gift shop was poor… There was almost nothing specific to the museum itself on sale. The cheap pens we bought (one of the few things WITH the name on) don’t work! And I don’t really mind the gross-overpricing of the ‘lobby cards’ (it’s a donation of sorts after all) but really? That’s it?

    It’s unfortunate that yet another supposedly ‘national’ museum is gravitating to London… Which for many of us in this allegedly ‘united’ kingdom might as well be another planet, and increasingly so. – Despite having trained there, it’s a place I haven’t bothered visiting in over a decade thanks to its ridiculously unfriendly transport policies. It WAS a right and proper thing for the old national film and TV museum to be based more centrally.

    But honestly? If that’s our ‘national’ media collection and how it’s curated… Well it’s not up to the standard I expected. Not by a very very long chalk! And if what I seen on Sunday moves to London, that’s really no great loss IMHO.

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