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Art could be sold to bridge gap

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: November 30, 2010

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ART from a collection worth millions could go under the hammer to bridge a £100,000 council funding gap.

Gloucester City Council is set to sell off works of art or relics with no local links, to improve the visitor experience at both its museums.

It has paintings worth millions, many of them unseen, as well as collections of historic artifacts, all with no specific links to the city or the county.

Those are under consideration for sale in order to help pay for a new a new education suite and cafe at the Folk Museum in Westgate Street, and a new reception area, shop and cafe at Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery in Brunswick Road.

Both are being refurbished, and while the folk museum remains open, the museum and art gallery is closed until Easter 2011.

Heritage Lottery Funding of £750,000 has to be match funded by the city council with £250,000 but a further £100,000 is required to complete the works not covered by the HLF money.

The council raised £250,000 in 2004 when it sold the Transport Museum in Bearland.

A council spokeswoman said: "The disposal process is to enable the museum service to dispose of a small number of artifacts which have no relevance to the Gloucester story, to produce investment funds for the running of, and improvements to, the museums' service and buildings."

The museum has three Turner paintings, all on loan, so they won't be for sale. They are on display at the city museum.

The three, Lucerne and the Rigi, Knaresborough and Jerusalem, alone are believed to be worth millions.

Robin Morris, chairman of Gloucester Civic Trust, agreed with the motive to sell, as long as the pieces had no link to the city or county.

"We don't really know yet what they have in mind to sell," he said.

"From my point of view I cannot see any objection to selling certain things if they don't have a link to here, and that will provide better museum facilities.

"Items that don't have a link here may be able to make a more meaningful contribution elsewhere."

Town halls across the country are starting to look at increasingly desperate measures to save cash.

Examples of councils looking to sell off artwork in order to balance the books are very rare.

But due to harsh cuts in Government funding over the next four years, such measures are expected to be more common.

Councils are having to make savings of up to 30 per cent in order to keep public finances under control.

The county council is preparing to shed around 1,000 jobs by 2014 and make cuts across all departments in response to Government grant reductions.

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    Malcolm, Gloucestershire  |  December 01 2010, 9:26AM

    I have spent much of my life caring for Gloucester¿s heritage & collections. I am ashamed that this is being considered. The logic is parochial & distorted. We disposed of a range of ethnographic material because they weren¿t locally relevant to fellow museums badly hit during the war. So when the national curriculum included Egyptians we were unable to benefit either the museums or the local schools; when I tried to borrow back one of the pieces we had given away, the relevant museum refused. The degree to which this parochial view extends is the first issue. Gloucester is the county town - just - but if it is only concerned with 'Gloucester's story' then we have threats to much of the collection. I watched the Library service some years back asset-strip their antiquarian books, leading to losses for local people that will never be replaced. The damage was irreparable. The recent case of copies of the Journal reminds me of watching such bound volumes being thrown from the upper floor of a library building into a skip. Perhaps these volumes included the ones now for sale. It seems likely, given that the Citizen and Journal had given their archive - presumably including those from Raikes' day - to the library. The justification for destruction given to me at the time was 'dust - a health hazard', admittedly in slightly longer terms. The museums service has been built over the years by people who care about Gloucester, Gloucestershire and our heritage. It has been struggling for resources for most of the past 40 years. Starved of those resources it has been unable adequately to protect, research and interpret one of the country's best collections - especially the archaeology but not exclusively. The current archaeology redisplay is the first since 1978 ¿ when I led the team creating the archaeology gallery. There is very little in the collection that is not locally relevant, and most of that is in those areas where localism is largely irrelevant - the fine and applied arts. But so much of our understanding is tempered by ignorance. The sheer accident of an item being found in Gloucester or even the county is not enough reason to raise it to pre-eminence over those items which happen to come from further afield, especially if we want to open people¿s horizons. The siren song of selling items is precisely that ¿ it will lead to fewer donations and the ability of those with ill motives to destroy this superb museum service, which houses many groups of items of international significance and importance. Any consideration should be in the clear light of day and with time for the arguments to be put against as well as for disposal. I hope that the current regime will draw back and recognise that the collection is not the property of any particular group of officers or elected representatives, let alone residents. It belongs to all those, past and future, who have enjoyed or may enjoy the knowledge and enlightenment it can provide. The ability to make the connections between apparently irrelevant and unconnected items is a rare gift, but it offers us more than the sum of the parts. The series of major exhibitions we mounted in the 1970s and 1980s showed how even a small local museum can mount, at relatively small expense, original and investigative exhibitions of high quality and discovery, but they depended on wide-ranging collections and officers given the opportunity to undertake original work. Gloucester has a long history of self destruction, matched only by a lack of aspiration. I wonder why, in a city that has one of Britain¿s top heritages, and a museum collection of awesome quality? I give talks about the city and its museum treasures ¿ especially the Birdlip Grave Group (not Gloucester) and the Gloucester Tables Set, but also the story of Roberts Brothers, the local games-makers who were the largest in the Empire. Many of their products appear to have no link to them or the firm or the city, bu

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    Shaun Shute, Gloucester  |  November 30 2010, 5:24PM

    Never trust a Tory with your art collection.