New lease dispels ‘mobile attraction’ fears for Cardiff’s Old Library
Fears that a city centre museum which celebrates the history of Cardiff would be turned into a “mobile attraction” without a permanent home have been dispelled with the news that it has signed a new five-year lease to stay at its existing site.
Deputy Arts Minister Dawn Bowden has told Members of the Senedd that the Museum of Cardiff has reached an agreement to share the Old Library in The Hayes with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, whose main building is nearly a mile away on the edge of Bute Park.
And she revealed that converting the museum into a mobile attraction would have endangered its accreditation and funding.
Many residents of the Welsh capital were shocked when Cardiff council said last year that it was looking to move the museum out of the Old Library, where it has been since 2011, in response to funding cuts. There were fears that turning it into a museum without a home would be a prelude to closure.
South Wales Central MS Rhys ab Owen raised the issue with Ms Bowden, saying: “I think we can all agree it’s important that our capital city has a place that highlights our rich and diverse history. I also know you agree with me, Minister, that attendance numbers are only one measure of success and that museums make a huge contribution in so many different ways.
“However, there is a concern with the attendance numbers of the museum. There’s a concern that the museum is not well advertised, that the people of Cardiff don’t even know of its existence, let alone tourists, and there are accessibility issues getting into the Old Library in Cardiff. How will you work with other partners to promote the museum and to ensure that it’s accessible to all?”
Ms Bowden responded: “I think those are very valid points, and I was very pleased to see that, just last week, Cardiff council has now signed a lease agreement with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and that’s going to enable the museum to remain within the Old Library building for a further five years.
“That’s a positive development because, clearly, that’s going to give some stability to the museum and the council to examine options and to undertake feasibility for any future moves. But it also gives them the opportunity to promote the museum more effectively and to introduce those accessibility measures that you’ve quite rightly outlined as being an important step towards ensuring that the museum becomes something that is a more attractive place to visit.
“It’s clearly one of Wales’ key local museums, and it’s got an excellent reputation for outreach work and supporting community groups and telling the diverse stories of people in our capital city. So, I very much hope that the partnership with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama will help to deliver the objectives that both you and I want to see for that museum.”
Welsh Conservative MS Joel James said: “I think we can all agree that the Museum of Cardiff is a vital tourist attraction for our capital city, as well as an important host for educational visits and cultural events.
“I fully appreciate that Cardiff council faces difficult choices because of the shortfall in funding, but I believe it was extremely shortsighted to have even thought about making Cardiff Museum a mobile attraction, because it provides another reason for people not to visit the city centre.
“In my mind, for a city such as Cardiff and the history that it has to not have a dedicated museum can only lead to reputational damage. It will simply show that we don’t care about our culture and have no pride in our past.
“With this in mind, what conversations have you had with the council to ensure that it fully understands the wider ramifications of not having this museum based in the city centre, and what analysis have you made of the council’s specific heritage and cultural fundraising capabilities?”
Ms Bowden said: “We were very clear with [the council] that the prospect of moving the Cardiff museum out of a static venue and into a mobile arrangement would put at risk their accreditation, and by putting at risk their accreditation, they put at risk various forms of funding.
“Now, what we’ve seen is that Cardiff council, the same as every other council in the country, was faced with serious financial issues and financial choices that they had to make, and this was one area that they sought consultation from the public on.
“As a result of that consultation, they’ve listened to what people have had to say and they are actually staying in the city centre in the Old Library.”
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