So Neil MacGregor is concerned about the ‘erosion of curatorial strength’ in regional museums. As funding cuts bite and staff numbers in smaller museums decrease, there is an inevitable corresponding decrease in the number of traditionally specialist curatorial staff. MacGregor, speaking to a select committee as part of the Countries of Culture Inquiry, highlights the knock-on effect this has for the work of local museums, and how national museums can help. There is the suggestion in MacGregor’s answers to the committee that small museums will be unable to take full advantage of opportunities such as loans from the BM because of a lack a curatorial knowledge about which objects to make use of, and a lack of knowledge about objects in the museum’s own collections. While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, it is more likely the lack of time available for research, as opposed to a lack of skill or pre-existing knowledge which makes a difference. As MacGregor goes on to acknowledge this comes back down to lack of funding, demands on staff time and therefore a lack of opportunities for small museums to do the work they would like to be doing:
On a recent trip to Bath I was interested to see a small exhibit in the ceramics display in the Victoria Art Gallery: a case full of broken objects. The case comes at the end of the small gallery full of delftware, radiant lustreware, packs of Staffordshire dogs and more modern studio ceramics. It showcases items from the collection which are in a state of disrepair and would not normally be on display. As well as making an effective case for donations, I thought this simple display was a wonderful way of making visible the work that needs to go on behind the scenes to care for and preserve the city’s collections.