Birmingham Museum forced to delay opening of new exhibition due to staff shortages
Jul 11 2010
BIRMINGHAM Museum was forced to close two thirds of its galleries and cancel the opening of a major publicly-funded exhibition yesterday – due to security staff shortages.
The embarrassing debacle comes just five days before the city hopes to be crowned the UK’s Capital of Culture.
The council decided to close 12 galleries on Friday night when it realised it was short of security staff to protect exhibits from theft.
Just the main corridors and Edwardian team rooms opened at the Chamberlain Square venue yesterday.
The controversial Heard and Not Seen show, which has received £25,000 of public cash, had been due to open to the public for the first time. The exhibition aimed to improve understanding of Islam by including a workshop where visitors were invited to wear burkhas.
The City of Culture bid is being led by Councillor Martin Mullaney, Cabinet member for Leisure Sport and Culture.
He brushed off the embarrassment of the closure yesterday and said: “We’ve had a number of security staff off ill – this caught us unaware.
“Because we have to maintain a minimum level of security, we felt it would be best to close the galleries.
“It’s very unfortunate but it is a one-off situation, and it’s a shame that it has happened just before the City of Culture announcement. It’s one of those things which does occasionally happen at any institution.
“It caught us on the hop – it was too late for us to get in agency staff to cover. The worst thing would have been to open all the galleries and have stuff stolen.”
Rita McLean, Head of Museums and Heritage Services, said: “The decision to close part of the museum and art gallery was made due to an extreme set of circumstances.
“Our security numbers meet nationally recognised standards and it would be irresponsible to open galleries with lower than adequate staffing levels.
“Our museum service is the largest of its kind in the country, providing many free exhibitions and events each year, and remains an integral part of the city’s cultural offer.’’
The Heard and Not Seen exhibition is on display until August 22 and had sparked controversy when details were first revealed in the Sunday Mercury.
John Midlgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said: “The exhibition is a patronising waste of public money.
“This is gong to do little to tackle extremism and bring about social cohesion within communities across Birmingham. It has been done in the name of political correctness but it seems to be potentially counter-productive.”
But Lee Griffiths, Director of Friction Arts, which is running the Heard and Not Seen show, said the event was still very much going ahead.
“It’s all set up, but due to staff shortages the museum had to close 12 galleries, including the one where the show is to be held,’’ he said.
“We should open on Monday evening, or maybe even on Sunday, we are waiting to hear off the museum.”
Birmingham is currently battling against Derry, Norwich and Sheffield to be named the UK’s Capital of Culture, which could be worth £800 million to the city and bring in an extra four million visitors.
High profile supporters include pop star Beverley Knight, actress Julie Walters and Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham.
The final announcement will be made on Thursday.