Following a meeting of its board of the trustees on 2 March, The Science Museum Group has confirmed it will go ahead with the transfer of the Royal Photographic Society Collection from the National Media Museum in Bradford, where it is currently held, to the V&A in London.
The meeting followed widespread criticism of the move – announced early February – including an online petition that gained over 27,000 signatures in a few weeks.
Concerns had also been raised about the long-term future of the National Media Museum, part of the Science Museum Group, with the museum also recently announcing that it would no longer host the annual Bradford International Film Festival.
The collection – consisting of 270,000 images, 26,000 books and periodicals, 10,000 items of archival materials and 6,000 pieces of camera equipment – will now be moved to London later this year. The trustees did however state that the National Media Museum should retain some key items from the RPS collection.
As part of a loan arrangement with the V&A, these objects will support the museum’s refocused vision to explore the ‘science and technology of light and sound’. SMG says it will continue to review whether a further 85,000 objects should also be transferred south from Bradford to London.
SMG chair Dame Mary Archer said she and her fellow trustees had been “struck by the depth of feeling that has been expressed about the future of the National Media Museum”.
She added: “We want to assure the people of Bradford that the aim of the Science Museum Group is to improve the museum, put it on a sound footing, and to shift its emphasis towards inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, while still celebrating the city’s key role in film, photography and television.”
SMG says it will achieve this by committing £7.5 million of investment to the museum over the next five years. The board also approved plans to move what it says are a number of ‘internationally significant objects’ to the National Media Museum from the Science Museum.
These include objects relating to pioneers in the field of light and sound such as Sir William Herschel, Sir Charles Wheatstone, Guglielmo Marconi and Sir John Fleming.
The board also confirmed its intention to rename the National Media Museum in 2017 with a title that ‘reflects its new focus and its status as a nationally important museum’.
Speaking on behalf of Bradford Council, which has invested £1m in the museum’s education programme between 2014-17, council leader David Green said: “We have worked closely with the National Media Museum over the development of new galleries and have given financial support of a million pounds over three years to improve visitor numbers and experience.
“The museum is really important to our city both culturally and economically and we will continue to support its development, working with partner organisations and citizens. It’s great news that the national Science Museum Group has confirmed ongoing commitment to the museum and to Bradford.”
Photography community speaks out
A number of photographers have expressed their concerns about the plans to relocate the RPS collection. Speaking to the The Art Newspaper, Martin Parr said: “For the photography community, this is bad news … this is stripping the city of a major photographic resource. I am concerned as photography is lowly in the V&A hierarchy. How will the curators there cope with these extra photographic items?”
Camilla Brown, visiting fellow in photography at the University of Derby, added: “I wonder what will happen to the very skilled and knowledgeable Bradford-based curatorial staff? The UK photography community is small, and it seems we are losing a number of our mid-generation curatorial experts in recent times.
“We are opening up a very big regional divide here in terms of our cultural provision and access to collections. It feels to me that without some form of national strategy, this will get a lot worse.”
An open letter published in The Guardian condemning the move to the V&A has been signed by 83 cultural figures, including David Hockney and the film director Mike Leigh. The letter states that ‘These new proposals have consequences too great to be left to internal decisions within the Science Museum Group’ and calls for other options to be explored.