National Museum’s leaky roof puts priceless works of art at risk
Chris Haines ICNN Senedd Reporter
Staff are on standby to move priceless works of art due to the risk of rain damage from a leaky roof at the National Museum Cardiff, a committee has heard.
Jane Richardson, chief executive of Museum Wales, said she is really worried about the national collection, which includes paintings by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.
She warned the Senedd’s culture committee: “When we are expecting a storm or heavy rain, we have to put the staff on standby so they can come into the building in the middle of the night to take paintings off the wall.
“I’m not exaggerating there – that is what our staff do. We never, ever compromise the safety of the works … but that is the reality of my colleagues’ working life at the moment.”
She said there are four buckets catching rain water just outside her office door.
Ms Richardson added: “We have inadequate storage – that means the collection is being kept in conditions that are not appropriate … and our conservators can’t access it.”
She said the roof of the National Museum Cardiff consists of 50 different structures and critical maintenance works at the museum would cost about £25m. She warned: “If we don’t do it, the future of that building is of great concern.”
Ms Richardson told committee members that a cut to capital funding could be disastrous. “We have alerted the Welsh Government to the seriousness of it,” she said, adding that there is a £90m problem across the Museum Wales estate.
She said Museum Wales is struggling to keep up with critical works and would have serious concerns for collections if the capital budget is reduced.
She told members: “We have such a significant backlog of maintenance…. The problem is escalating to a very worrying degree.”
Ms Richardson added: “At National Museum Cardiff we have a major problem with mechanical, electrical and plumbing works. If we can’t get those addressed, we will struggle to function.”
Ms Richardson said a flat revenue budget would be challenging but Museum Wales has been told to model based on a significant cut. She warned: “That will be enormously challenging for us. Like all organisations and businesses we are struggling with rising costs.”
She said the pandemic had a profound impact on Museum Wales’ commercial operations despite visitor numbers more or less recovering to pre-Covid levels. Saying she is modelling a 10% cut, Ms Richardson told MSs that some important income streams, such as corporate hire and filming, have “pretty much gone”.
Ms Richardson cautioned that Museum Wales faces a significant in-year challenge, saying: “We are likely to have to use our reserves to meet the cost of pay rises because it’s more than we were advised to budget.
“For next year, we are having to look at a restructuring of the museum and a remodelling of what we do, to adapt to a new financial landscape. That means we’re probably going to have to be a smaller museum.”
She told the committee some programmes will stop and opening hours could change.
Speaking after the meeting on Wednesday December 6, Heledd Fychan said Dawn Bowden, the deputy minister, has consistently denied there is a real risk to collections.
The Plaid Cymru shadow minister said: “She must now bring an urgent statement to the Senedd explaining how the Welsh Government is working with Amgueddfa Cymru and the National Library of Wales to protect our national treasures.”
In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We take the safety of the national collections very seriously.
“As part of its grant in aid for this financial year, Amgueddfa Cymru is receiving more than £4.7m towards capital maintenance which has helped to address the most pressing maintenance projects.
“Whilst we are aware of the longer-term maintenance issues, the museum has assured us that the collections are currently safe.”
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