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The plight of our cherished museums

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

It may not have escaped your attention that many museums are struggling financially as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. In London, the Florence Nightingale Museum, in the year that it was planning to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Nightingale's birth with a major exhibition, requires a serious cash injection to survive the coming months. The Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, in the year of the 150th anniversary of the famous author's death, has made a public appeal for extra funding, since it has lost almost all its income. Fulham Palace, the former residence of the bishops of London, which reopened its museum last year following a restoration programme supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has indicated that for the first time it will ask visitors to make a voluntary donation to enter its walled garden this summer, such has been the shortfall in its revenue combined with the significant additional costs it is facing.

These are just a few examples. We know there are many more equally deserving of mention. So how can we all help? First, we would implore our readers to support all such museums in their fundraising campaigns. The Florence Nightingale Museum will be the beneficiaries of a charity auction (hosted by Charles Hanson) on 19 June, which has received donations from Boris Johnson, Chelsea Clinton and others. The museum, an independent charity, requires £160,000 to survive its prolonged closure. Over at Doughty Street, over £30,000 is required per month to support the upkeep of what is a Grade I-listed building. Fulham Palace likewise has an online shop and its café (our favourite place in London) will reopen on 29 June for takeaways.

Secondly, we would ask everyone to consider how culture benefits us at all times of life, how it underpins our well-being, and how it acts as an important social and economic force for the greater good. Think how many people, a significant number of them visitors from overseas, go to the British Museum and the Natonal Gallery each year, and how much money that collectively generates. Think how many people our museums employ, from front-of-house staff and security guards to conservators, curators and fundraisers. Think how exhibitions and related events enrich our lives, and the thrill we receive when we encounter a particular artwork for the first time, or when we make a special trip to catch up with a favourite piece or, indeed, a favourite museum. None of this comes at much cost to us, but it is worth keeping at the front of our minds as central government funding is eroded and philanthropists seek to invest elsewhere.

It has often been said that a country is only as rich as its infrastructure. The same applies on a cultural level. If we do not preserve our heritage in this time of need, there will be little or no heritage left for future generations to cherish.

Julian Harrison for Cradles and Labels

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