Is it a new era or the beginning of the end for Bradford’s National Media Museum?

The National Media Museum stands behind the statue of famous son J B Priestley

The National Media Museum stands behind the statue of famous son J B Priestley - Credit: Joan Russell

400,000 Royal Photographic Society items to be moved to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

'Nubian Woman carrying water' 1858

'Nubian Woman carrying water' 1858 - Credit: Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Libr

Fears are growing for the future of one of Yorkshire’s leading museums after it was announced that a significant part of its collection is to be moved to London. Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, is heading a campaign to prevent the transfer of 400,000 objects, a major part of the Royal Photographic Society collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford, to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She fears it is closure by stealth of the Bradford museum.

The National Media Museum is part of the Science Museum Group and the decision to move the photographs was taken by its board of trustees. That decision has been followed by suggestions the museum be renamed and its international film festival be abandoned.

As we go to press, Ms Cummins was planning to meet Ian Blatchford the director of the Science Museum Group, when she will be demanding answers and assurances. She said: ‘It was just over three months ago that I received assurances from the Government both about keeping the National Media Museum here in Bradford and importantly keeping the entry free.

Japanese girl with parasol c 1864-1867

Japanese girl with parasol c 1864-1867 - Credit: Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Libr

‘The National Media Museum is a hugely important part of the cultural offer not just in Bradford and the region but for the nation as a whole. Visitor numbers have been rising, so to now learn that the Royal Photographic Society’s world-renowned photography is to be shipped off to London raises serious concerns that the museum is being downgraded by stealth. That cannot be right and has to be resisted. I’m calling on Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP to intervene and the Science Museum Group to rethink this detrimental move.

‘I was shocked to learn that the decision to transfer the photographs, the abandonment of the international film festival and the move to rename the museum were all made over 200 miles away in London. Not a single person on the board of trustees has links to Bradford, or indeed the wider region. We cannot have decisions about our city and our region being made by the “great and the good” in London.

‘I’m determined to fight for the future of the National Media Museum and preserve our rich heritage for future generations. Our museum must remain a national museum and a beacon for culture in the North.’

Most Read

Ms Cummins, supported by Bradford East MP Imran Hussain, met the National Media Museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch and made three demands: that the transfer of the photographs is stopped; moves to abandon the Bradford International Film Festival are reconsidered and that the name of the museum remains as it is.

Hands 1930s

Hands 1930s - Credit: RPX/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Libr

She added: ‘We all want a vibrant and successful National Media Museum, but I have huge concerns about the way in which the museum has conducted itself. There has been a complete lack of transparency and consultation both with local MPs and the Bradford community at large.’

Jo Quinton-Tulloch agreed to take the demands to the Science Museum Group board and later made a statement in which she talked about their ‘new mission to explore the science and culture of light and sound’. She said: ‘This means using our world-class collections in photography, cinematography and television to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers from Bradford, Yorkshire and beyond.

‘And part of this refocus means concentrating our resources on what we do best, and what we are obliged to do – be a museum. Museums are and can be many things, including places of entertainment and art, but at their heart they are places that conserve and preserve historic collections on their specialist subject areas, to inspire and educate future generations. In a time of limited resources and as we refocus our mission, we can no longer do everything we once did.’

She added: ‘Film remains a very important part of our future plans, but our festival programme needed changes to make it sustainable and aligned with the new focus. We will continue to run a film festival of international scope - an extended Widescreen Weekend, which welcomes guest speakers and cinemagoers from around the world.’

Jo Quinton-Tulloch said it was hard to hear some of the criticism made but she also knew that if there were no petitions, no press interest, no tweets, and no disagreement, it would mean that no one in Bradford cared. ‘And then we really would be in trouble,’ she said.

‘When we announced that we were planning to transfer a comparatively small – but significant – part of our photography collection to the V&A in London, I knew that for some of you it would come as unwelcome news. A loss of something precious and prestigious.

‘I’ve tried my hardest to explain how we came to this decision and why I believe that the future for this museum – Bradford’s National Museum – looks brighter than it’s been in a long time.’

Photographs courtesy of the National Media Museum, Bradford are from the RPS collection


Online campaign to save the National Media Museum in Bradford