Swansea Museum, the oldest museum in Wales, is under threat from two directions.
Swansea Council, which owns and operates the Museum, announced in November 2015 that, in response to a financial cut of 50% over the next three years in its funding of cultural services – a reduction far in excess of cuts in other services – it intends to explore other options for the future management of the Museum and other cultural facilities. Options include ‘not-for-profit and community-based companies and organisations’. This follows a review conducted for the Council, which has not been made public. The lack of public debate on the Museum’s future is concerning, especially since there appears to be a strong and unchallenged push by the Council towards Trust status for the Museum. A recent report for Arts Council England makes it clear that the offloading of museum services to trusts is not likely to succeed if its primary motivation is to save money.
Secondly, the Museums Association reported on 8 December 2015 rumours that Swansea Council intends to close, temporarily or permanently, the Tramshed, the pontoon (with its three heritage boats) and, most serious of all, the Collections Centre in Landore, which houses 90% of the Museum’s historic collections.
Swansea Council has now published a consultation questionnaire on its latest budget (the closing date for responses is 24 January 2016). The two questions about Swansea Museum reveal that the Council proposes to close the Tramshed and remove the collections from the Collections Centre and ‘transfer’ them somewhere else (unspecified).
The closure of the Collections Centre, especially if followed by the dispersal or disposal of its contents, would deprive Swansea citizens of their own history and undo nearly two centuries of patient collection.
The Royal Institution of South Wales, as the Friends of Swansea Museum, is very concerned about these developments. It calls for a full public debate on decisions that would have very serious implications for the city and its residents.