Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 10 April 2008
Briefing from National Museums Northern Ireland
10 April 2008
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon
Mr Tim Cooke )
Mr John Gilmour ) National Museums Northern Ireland
Ms Amanda Lilley )
The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
The next item on the agenda is a briefing from National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI). I understand that the witnesses will make a PowerPoint presentation.
I welcome the team from National Museums Northern Ireland, which includes Mr Tim Cooke, the chief executive, Ms Amanda Lilley, director of finance and planning, and Mr John Gilmour, director of development. Before we start, it is the protocol to ask witnesses whether they intend to issue a press release regarding their presentation.
Mr Tim Cooke (National Museums Northern Ireland):
That depends on what happens during the proceedings, Chairman.
That is a good answer.
At this point, we have no intention to issue a press release.
That is subject to review. If you have any media background, you would know how to handle this. Would you like to begin the presentation?
Thank you, Chairman. We are very grateful for the invitation to attend the Committee meeting this morning. We greatly appreciate the Committee’s interest and support. I have had contact with individual members since the Committee was formed, and I am grateful for the interest that they have shown when visiting our various sites. I am glad to be able to make a formal presentation to the Committee and give it a view of what the organisation is, where it is and what its issues are. Members should have a copy of our presentation.
National Museums Northern Ireland comprises the Ulster Museum, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the Ulster American Folk Park, Armagh County Museum and W5. Its statutory role is set out in the Museums and Galleries (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, which formed the National Museums organisation from three existing bodies. Until that point, the Ulster Museum, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Park had been separate entities. The 1998 Order brought those three organisations together and added Armagh County Museum to form the National Museums group. It was a sort of review of public administration (RPA) ahead of its time.
Our responsibilities are set out in article 4(1) of the Order. Article 4(1)(a) states that the board shall:
"care for, preserve and add to the objects in its collections;"
It also states that it must ensure that the collections are available to the public through exhibitions, and so on.
Article 4(1)(d) also states that the board shall:
"generally promote the awareness, appreciation and understanding by the public of -
(i) art, history and science;
(ii) the culture and way of life of people; and
(iii) the migration of settlement of people,"
Article 4(2) states that:
"In carrying out its functions the Board shall have particular regard to the heritage of Northern Ireland."
As regards governance, our organisation is a non-departmental public body, and the Committee will be familiar with such bodies. We are accountable to the Assembly through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), and we have a board of trustees that is appointed by public advertisement and approved by the Minister. We have a three-year corporate strategy and an annual business plan, which again is approved by the Department. Our annual report is published and submitted to the Assembly, the most recent of which — the 2006-07 report — was delivered last month.
Turning to our overall activities, when the Ulster Museum is open we have approximately 800,000 visitors a year. The Committee will be aware that the museum is closed at the moment for a major refurbishment. More than 100,000 of those visitors take part in organised educational programmes. We have a very high satisfaction rate from visitors and a strong performance of C2DE visitors, which is quite high as regards the museums community as a whole. We also have 2·5 million virtual visitors.
What is C2DE?
It is a socio-economic classification. The ABs tend to be the higher socio-economic groups — the higher-income sections. The C2DEs are the middle-income to lower-income groups on the socio-economic scale. Overall, the organisation generated about 34% of its own income in the financial year just past.
The Ulster Museum has a broad remit, which includes art, history and science. As the Committee will know, it is situated in Botanic Gardens. It was built in 1929, and a big extension was added in 1972. A £14·7 million refurbishment programme is under way at the museum. During the period of closure, an extensive outreach programme has been run, which touches all the constituencies that members represent. The purpose of the new museum is to improve the whole physical and intellectual access to the collections and to support learning, community engagement and the drive for tourism.
The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum was established in 1958 to illustrate the way of life and the traditions of the people of the North of Ireland at a time when life was changing very rapidly in the post-war situation. As you know, many vernacular buildings from all around the Province of Ulster are represented on the site. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is one of the finest of its kind in Europe. It includes the Irish railway collection and has a very comprehensive transport collection. It is currently Irish museum of the year.
The Ulster American Folk Park was established in 1976, and it tells the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many members will have visited the park and enjoyed the outdoor experience that it provides and the history of the old and the new worlds. The park is a significant employer west of the Bann in its own right and is a major tourist attraction.
Armagh County Museum is situated right on the Georgian Mall in Armagh. It is the oldest county museum in Ireland. Its collections are specific to County Armagh, covering fine art, archaeology and natural history. Responsibility for the museum is due to transfer from National Museums to the new council for the area that will be created as a result of the RPA, and that process is under way.
W5 is an interactive science-discovery centre, which was opened in March 2001 inside the Odyssey complex. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of National Museums Northern Ireland and was set up as a separate company. Its board comprises trustees from the board of National Museums. Since opening, it has had almost 1·7 million visitors, and it generates about 70% of its own income annually.
To give the Committee a flavour of the funding that comes from Government, I will discuss the revenue and capital allocations that we have received via grant-in-aid over the past three years under the spending review (SR) for 2004 — the SR 2004 process, which has just come to an end.
In that period, our grant-in-aid was flatlined at £11·15 million a year. Although that is a substantial amount of public money, the flatlining of the grant-in-aid at that time placed considerable strains on the organisation, and it faced many challenges. As a result, we have implemented reform, modernisation and efficiency measures.
National Museums Northern Ireland was allocated £13·5 million in capital over those three years, and it is worth pointing out that that was the first occasion in a long time that National Museums were allocated a substantial amount of funds.
In the current spending review period, our revenue situation is much improved compared with what it has been in the past three years; I estimate that it is back to the level where it should have been headed in the past three years. We are grateful that the spending review has resulted in that outcome. There will be an allocation of £26 million of capital in the three-year period, which will be spent systematically to improve our estate. I can provide more detail on that to the Committee if necessary.
The key themes for National Museums Northern Ireland in the future are reflected in the corporate strategy and business plan. We have a strong focus on events, exhibitions that engage people, improving the outdoor exhibit areas in the outdoor museums — the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Park — and developing engagement through learning and partnership.
Another theme is to invest in our museums, which reflects the level of capital allocation that I mentioned. That investment will fund capital projects, improve collections management and help with storage. We were the subject of a Northern Ireland Audit Office report two years ago, and the Westminster Committee of Public Accounts made several criticisms and recommendations on collections management — the documentation of collections — and collections care. One such recommendation was to move from having no plan or strategy — with approximately 50 stores to house the national collections — to devising one that centralised storage. One of the capital schemes that we have proposed, and are discussing with the Department, is a collections resource centre, the first phase of which would cost approximately £10 million over the next three years.
We are also focused on developing and delivering. We want to modernise the organisation, focus on key performance indicators, deliver shared ownership in the organisation and improve our staffing structures and arrangements.
We are conscious of the need for value and best practice in the organisation: we strive constantly for greater financial efficiency, improve our self-generated income performance and ensure that we have effective corporate governance.
In addition to the measures that I discussed in our corporate strategy for 2006-09 and our business plan, we support the Programme for Government, on which the Assembly has signed off. We have a key role in the drive to increase tourist numbers and the revenue that they generate, and we want to play a role in the enhancement of learning provision in Northern Ireland, both formally and informally. We want to ensure that National Museums Northern Ireland plays a substantial role in representing Northern Ireland in the international arena — as most other national museums groups do for their countries — in the same way that we did at the Rediscover Northern Ireland programme in Washington DC with the Titanic exhibition.
We want to continue to work with our partners to improve the interpretation of maritime and industrial heritage, which is an interest of many of the Committee members. We hold significant collections that are relevant to our maritime heritage, particularly at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. For example, we have the Harland and Wolff ship-plan collection, the Harland and Wolff photographic collection, a Titanic exhibition, and a flight-experience exhibition that examines the history of flight and the role of Bombardier Shorts in Northern Ireland.
In light of what is happening in the Titanic Quarter and the fresh opportunities for development that are occurring there, we are involved in dialogue to determine the possibilities that exist and how we might contribute to giving greater coherence to and having an impact on our overall maritime heritage provision.
Finally, Belfast is unique among major cities in not having its own dedicated art gallery. Art gallery provision exists in the Ulster Museum complex, but there is no dedicated art gallery. For some time, there has been an aspiration to build a new art gallery that would display the collections of National Museums and offer a facility for major international exhibitions.
That is a quick resumé of the organisation and of where we are at the moment.
Thank you very much. That was a very interesting and important presentation to which the Committee has been looking forward; there is definitely something there for everyone.
All our museums are gems in Northern Ireland’s crown. How long will it be before we can exploit our maritime and industrial heritage and have a dedicated art gallery? Bearing in mind NMNI’s capital budget for the next few years, how will such projects be financed? I believe that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum; it is certainly that of the Ulster Folk Museum. Is anything being done to mark that anniversary?
I will answer your question about a maritime museum and an art gallery first. We are always wrestling with a range of competing priorities; I am sure that you are familiar with that concept. National Museums have substantial capital needs for a range of issues. The capital allocation that we received in the most recent settlement was the first in which there had been any systematic capital programming for quite some time. The board of trustees identified the needs of the Ulster Museum as a priority. The museum had become a health and safety risk; for example, there were buckets under the atrium roof, and that was a poor reflection on the place as a whole. That project was prioritised and will be completed next year. There is also a substantial need to address the issues that the Westminster Committee of Public Accounts raised about storage provision.
We must improve our self-generated income performance and invest in the commercial infrastructure of the organisation. There is a clear need for new visitor facilities and visitor interpretation at the Ulster American Folk Park and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. I just wanted to place those two particular capital needs in the context of a much wider programme.
The Minister asked us for a commitment to review maritime heritage in the current financial year, and we gave him that commitment. We intend to conduct such a review and discuss the possibilities for greater co-ordination with our partners. The approach that we take will obviously depend to a degree on the outcome of the Titanic signature project. If that goes ahead as anticipated, although it has not been not confirmed for reasons that the Committee is well aware of, other possibilities and where they are sited will be affected. Further development of the maritime and industrial heritage provision could take place at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra. Alternatively, a new development that would complement the Titanic signature project could be built on the Titanic site. It could also be that increased emphasis is put on the interpretation of the Harland and Wolff headquarters building and the drawing offices. There could be greater co-ordination of Thompson Dock, the Titanic trail, HMS Caroline and SS Nomadic, and potentially, The Result that we hold. All those matters are in the mix and are under discussion at present. From our point of view, there cannot be a specific capital-programme outline until some of those matters are resolved.
Discussions on the art gallery are at a relatively early stage. The organisation submitted a proposal for a new art gallery for Belfast to the previous Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. At that time, it was not seen as a priority. There is now a fresh opportunity to revisit the concept. However, it will have to be assessed for capital against many other competing priorities.
What would the gallery cost?
Such projects are highly scalable. The cost depends on the scale of ambition. The cost of a newbuild could run from £20 million or £25 million to £125 million. The fact is that capital investment in projects of that nature in other European destinations and capital cities throughout the world tends to be at the higher end of the scale, because they generate value and return from tourists.
The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum was established by an Act of Parliament in 1958. We celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the museum’s opening in 2004. It took some time, therefore, from the date that the Cultra site was acquired until the museum got up and running. You can be assured that the museum’s fiftieth anniversary will be cause for celebration.
Mr D Bradley:
What is your relationship or what links do you have with smaller, more localised museums in Newry, Derry and Enniskillen? What is your attitude to the proposed transfer of the Armagh County Museum to the new council? What North/South links do you have with regard to travelling exhibitions, loans, exchanges, and so on? Do you make documents available to schools on specific themes, such as immigration?
That is a lot of questions for you to answer, all of which are of huge interest to the Committee.
With regard to local museums, we have a formal relationship with the Northern Ireland Museums Council, with which we work closely on various matters, such as policy development. Our main relationships are with local museums, which, as members will be aware, tend to be run by councils. Those relationships focus mainly on loans. We have fairly substantial loans engagement with probably all the local museums. For example, the Tower Museum in Derry currently has loan of the La Trinidad Valencera material from the Armada. I sign off all the loans that we make. There is a constant stream of loans material going through to local museums.
Mr D Bradley:
Do you ensure that you get the stuff back?
Are you prepared to loan the Fintona tram to the people of Fintona?
Can I come back to that towards the end of meeting, Chairman? I may have to issue a press release on that.
I believe that our relationships with local museums are good, although they could probably be better. There is a constant dialogue and a substantial loans programme. Indeed, we are involved with the Ulster Museum on loans and outreach activity.
During the RPA deliberations, the board of trustees made the case that the Armagh County Museum should remain part of National Museums. That was the board of trustee’s primary wish, given the historical relationships that exist. Nevertheless, the board of trustees recognises that the museum is something of an anomaly in the National Museums context and that there are historical reasons why matters are the way they are. We are working with the Department to advance the transfer appropriately.
There are substantial North/South links between museums at research, publications and, again, at loans level. From time to time, there are significant high-profile exchanges. The most recent was in March 2007, when we sent 60 paintings from the Ulster Museum for a six-month display in the National Gallery of Ireland. Indeed, President McAleese conducted the opening ceremony. There is, therefore, a vigorous exchange of material, and good relationships exist between the institutions.
National Museums Northern Ireland focuses a lot of its effort on working with schools. The Ulster Museum, for instance, is very much linked to Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2 and GCSE. Programmes that contain appropriate material for schools are devised in consultation with the curriculum authorities and schools. There has been substantial engagement between the Ulster American Folk Park and schools with regard to emigration, as there has been with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum on some issues and with W5 in relation to science education.
I do not want to alarm you, but I think that you are doing a great job and that you should receive more funding to develop your work. I picked up on the treasures and stores and on the need for a national art gallery. What art treasures are held in store? What is the public missing? Can any interim measures be taken to get those treasures into the public domain? Is there any way that the Assembly — and the Committee, although probably not today — can help in the promotion of a much-needed national art gallery?
Works of art fall into different categories. The visual art, which consists of oils and watercolours, for instance, falls into the fine art category, and the applied art category includes such items as jewellery and glass. There are approximately 5,000 paintings in our collection, and they have been displayed in the Ulster Museum. Those of you who were familiar with the layout of the building before it closed will know that the paintings were displayed on the upper floors and that one floor was dedicated to the display of art. That means that 90% to 95% of our collection was in storage at any time, as opposed to being on public display. However, not all the collection is a display collection; some of it is a research collection. Therefore, there is an opportunity to display more local art.
The constraints regarding where and how that can be displayed outside of a museum setting limit what can be done, because one must be satisfied with the security and environmental conditions, for instance, that are provided. The paintings are held in public trust, and we have a responsibility for them. There are, therefore, limited opportunities to display them outside of a controlled context.
National Museums Northern Ireland and the Department have wrestled with many issues relating to funding and the future prioritisation of National Museums, and a national art gallery is another one such element. We need to explore a more systematic case as to what the potential is and what the costs are likely to be. That exercise has not been carried out for several years. Our business plan for this year contains a commitment to revisit that and consider the possibilities. I am happy to keep the Committee informed about how that progresses.
A completely different issue on the horizon is taxing the public as well as MLAs. What some call a conflict transformation centre and others call a terrorist shrine is scheduled to be built on the Maze site. Have you been consulted about that development? What is your definition of their interpretation of a conflict transformation centre? Would it be a museum? If it were, would it come under your remit? How would it be marketed? The Committee is interested in whether the issue would be the responsibility of DCAL. Given that the proposed project is not budgeted for in any budget that we have seen, would it require special funding? If all that happened, what role, if any, would your organisation have at the Maze site?
I will answer that question by explaining what we are and are not doing.
As long as you give me an answer, I do not mind.
We are not closely involved in the development of that concept. We have had discussions about the potential involvement of our staff for consultation purposes in the Maze project, but as an organisation, we are not centrally involved.
With which Department did those discussions take place?
From recollection, the discussions took place with the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) around two years ago. We are not closely involved now, so I am not up to date with the proposals. Therefore, I cannot comment on the approach that is being taken.
Our organisation recognises from the history galleries that are being developed at the Ulster Museum that the past 30 or 40 years are of interest to our local and international visitors. We intend that the development of the history galleries at the Ulster Museum will address the contemporary history of Northern Ireland, including the Troubles and the more recent political settlement. We intend to reflect that in the context of the Ulster Museum’s work on Irish history, independent of the concept that you have mentioned.
That is extremely interesting. Since you are here, I will put you on the spot. From the discussions that you had two years ago, how might the conflict transformation centre be defined if it were to be marketed locally? I assume that you would have some involvement in it if that were to happen.
I cannot offer such a definition, Mr McNarry; I am not close enough to it to be able to do that.
Can you offer a way in which we could find out how we might get a definition of a conflict transformation centre?
Did you bring your dictionary?
I suggest that Mr Cooke notes the question and undertakes to write back to the Committee.
That would be helpful.
I am pleased that the refurbishment of the Ulster Museum is progressing to schedule. It is a great pity that the general public, especially tourists, have been denied the opportunity to see the exhibits. You said that a lot of the exhibits are in storage. Does the refurbishment increase the floor space for showing exhibits? Following on from the Westminster Committee of Public Accounts report, can you expand on how you will improve the documentation and care of exhibits? It is important that good records are kept of the exhibits.
The development of the Titanic Quarter is one of the major projects to take place, not only in Belfast, but in Northern Ireland. Would you consider moving the transport element of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to the Titanic Quarter?
Have you had any discussions with military museums? I know that sometimes they experience considerable difficulties in finding suitable premises. I would like to see the Titanic Quarter being developed as a centre for maritime, aeronautical and industrial heritage.
Thank you Lord Browne; you have asked a range of questions, and I will try to deal with them as quickly as I can.
With regard to floor space at the Ulster Museum, we are not building an extension; it is a refurbishment. An extension would have cost substantially more money than was available at the time. However, that work is linked to other things that are happening in the organisation, including an accommodation strategy. We have built some new accommodation at the Cultra site, and we have moved some of the Ulster Museum staff there. We are returning some administrative space in the Ulster Museum to public use, and that will improve the use of the floor space significantly, although there will be no actual extension.
As members might expect, we have taken an aggressive approach to addressing the issues that were raised by the Westminster PAC. We have restructured part of our collections directorate, and we are continuing with work on that. We have appointed a director of collections and interpretation. We have just appointed a head of collections care and a head of collections research and interpretation. We have made significant improvements to rationalising our stores, but that is not a long-term solution to our problems, hence the need for the collections resource centre that I mentioned. We are giving increased emphasis and staff resources to documentation, particularly to the computerisation of existing documentation, which was one aspect that was criticised with regard to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. In the Ulster Museum, the level of computerisation of documentation is extremely high — it is about 98%.
In relation to the questions on the Titanic Quarter and the transport museum, there is potential for a realignment of museum provision. However, many issues go with that. The current road and rail galleries at Cultra were built and opened as recently as the mid-1990s, and they are in a purpose-built facility, which has a very good footprint. It is difficult to imagine being able to recreate that footprint in the Titanic Quarter site. However, that is not to say that certain elements of the displays could not potentially form part of a new display there. Those issues are all in the mix, and they ought to be discussed, because such a brownfield site provides an opportunity. However, many issues concerning strategy, funding and partnership accompany that opportunity, so it is not entirely straightforward.
As for the military museums, we have had discussions with the folk who are progressing some of the military museums’ concepts. During the past six weeks, I met General Truesdale, who is leading that work, to seek advice and to discuss possible approaches. Those discussions have not led to any concrete plans, but we have opened dialogue on the matter.
Mr D Bradley:
Who owns or runs the Royal Irish Fusiliers Regimental Museum in Armagh?
I think that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) owns it.
You mentioned that your museums generated 34% of their total income. I assume that a small amount of that money came from the Ulster Museum; it is more likely to have come from the other sites. If that is the case, when the Ulster Museum reopens, do you have any plans to add more commercial elements to it to help to address its specific expenses?
Yes. In the UK, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere, there is a belief that museums and national museums should be more commercial and less reliant on the public purse. That was an acute issue for us over the past three years in the context of having a flatlined funding settlement. We, therefore, revisited the issue of commercial strategy across the whole organisation, and we built into the plans for the Ulster Museum a shop in which to display and sell material that is related to the collections and subject matter, and we also expanded catering facilities. Those measures have, therefore, been taken. It is about generating more money, but it will also provide a greater service to our visitors. Similar issues will be examined in respect of all sites.
Thank you for your presentation. I am sorry that I missed the beginning, but I read the details earlier.
You said that W5 contributed 70% of its income towards its running costs. Although that is not the same type of venue as a museum, that statistic indicates that something could be done to generate income. On that basis, what sort of partnerships have you built up? Francie Brolly said that 34% of the total required income was generated at the various sites, so there is a huge shortfall.
Your presentation contained details of your partnerships with other businesses, companies and entrepreneurs. Do you intend to build on those? Will you give us some examples of what you have done in the past?
I have another question, but I prefer that it is answered separately.
I urge questioners and respondents to be as brief as possible.
I am not sure whether that is a criticism of you or me, Mr Shannon.
A vast amount of artefacts and historical items are held in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. History is not only about books; it relates to the lives of people and to what created the country, such as jobs and industry. People have bequeathed items to the museum that have never seen the light of day. That is disappointing. How can you ensure that exhibitions take place?
Strangford Lough, which is in the constituency that I represent, is an area of great historical interest, but it is also an area of interest to those who are involved in wildfowling, and it has been so for years. My colleague mentioned the military, but I want to talk about how people lived in historical times. They lived a spartan existence by hunting and growing their own vegetables. What have you done to present and exhibit artefacts that relate to those times? Ards Borough Council would be keen to be involved in that. Have you built partnerships? Have you considered those matters, or will they be mothballed for the rest of time?
In emotive language, mothballed is OK.
Am I expected to give a short answer to that? I will pass that one to the director of finance.
Ms Amanda Lilley (National Museums Northern Ireland):
For clarification, I will summarise how the overall income is generated across the museum sites. Principally, we generate our income under a number of different headings. An admission charge is applicable across all the sites, with the exception of the Ulster Museum, which is free. That is in line with the national museums in the UK. We are keen to continue granting free admission for the Ulster Museum, but subject to funding, we may have to consider that as an option in the future.
We generate further income from retail and trading. As Tim mentioned, our shops and restaurants generate income, and there is potential for further investment in the new development of the ground floor of the Ulster Museum. We receive sponsorship from the private sector, and we receive donations by maximising gift-aid schemes, as well as membership and donation schemes, across the group. We are involved in significant partnerships, and that generates other income. As Tim mentioned, we receive other grants of £500,000 to £600,000 a year. For instance, we have a large science division at the Ulster Museum, which is involved in research, scholarship work and field work. We receive grants from, for example, the Environment and Heritage Service and Building Sustainable Prosperity for this work. Those grants are included in our income.
In summary, admission to Armagh County Museum and the Ulster Museum is free. However, we charge at the other sites.
What about the artefacts?
I am not aware of the objects to which you refer.
Do you put on exhibitions in tandem with councils? For example, artefacts that come from the Ards borough or from Strangford Lough would be of interest to the people of that area. I understand that the artefacts are wrapped up in Vaseline — or some other cream — or cloths. The artefacts are simply sitting there, and they have never seen the light of day.
I will answer that question in general, rather than specific, terms. We are keen to develop a greater partnership with councils and local museums. In fact, we are creating a post for a director of learning and partnership. The postholder will increase our community engagement, identify themes of interest to communities and find ways of doing things that will be of specific interest to particular geographic or other communities. We need to do more of that work in the future.
When will that director be appointed?
There have been two recruitment exercises, but they have not led to a successful appointment. Therefore, we are currently going through a third recruitment process.
Will you inform the Committee when that person has been appointed?
Yes, I will.
Mr K Robinson:
I am glad that you are considering the maritime aspects, because time is marching on and we are in danger of losing HMS Caroline in particular. That is a ship from the Titanic era, which is sitting in Belfast, but eagle eyes across the water are on it. The SS Nomadic is at Cultra, and the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat is sitting in Donaghadee.
That is one of ours; it is in Donaghadee.
Mr K Robinson:
That lifeboat is one of the survivors from the Princess Victoria disaster. Therefore, we have a critical mass there, and we must take action fairly quickly, because the clock is ticking.
You talked about art exhibitions. There are several big houses in Belfast and across the Province. Could any of those sites be used to house art collections? Off the top of my head, I was thinking of Malone House, Riddel Hall in the south of the city, or Glencairn House in the north of the city. However, there are other big houses around that could create their own energy and that could lend themselves to art exhibitions.
You also talked about military museums. I am glad that someone is considering that, as there is a great military history here. I have noted down about half a dozen regiments and organisations in the Province that must have artefacts that reflect 300 or 400 years — in some cases — of our history.
We have talked about art and about the profile of the folk who visit the museum. If I remember correctly, some 31% of people from lower socio-economic groups visit museums. Potential exists to increase that. Yet one cannot go into the centre of Belfast without passing a wall that has been decorated with public art. Are you taking steps to conserve any of those items, which are unique to Belfast and Northern Ireland? Tourist buses turn up every day outside this Building, but they then travel around these "muriels", as they are known in Belfast. It is a form of folk art. As organisations move away from their former stances, they are changing that folk art. That is a lesson to us: we should get that folk art in its raw state and trace the evolution that is taking place. That would present no significant cost to the public purse.
Amanda talked about patronage and sponsorship. Courtaulds UK Ltd was a major employer in my constituency for many years, and the Courtaulds Institute does a great deal of work to preserve fine art across the water. Why do we not contact the big organisations that were formerly engaged here? They are patrons of the arts across the UK, and we might be able to tap into their resources. Are we missing out on that opportunity?
I have a bee in my bonnet about another matter. We mount explanatory exhibitions in different locations of, for example, St Brigid’s crosses, Easter celebrations that involve pace-egging, mummers or whatever it happens to be. What strikes me repeatedly is that, in Belfast, during the Twelfth of July period, overseas visitors may be seen standing along the route of the processions, watching the parades go by but receiving no explanation. Why is there never an exhibition during that period to explain to those visitors the significance of the parades? In subsequent days, those visitors may well visit the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which is the obvious place for such an exhibition, but they will be given no idea of the context in which those parades are set, or no explanation of what they have seen with their own eyes. That, too, could be a fairly cost-effective way of developing the tourist market and explaining the wider issues of Northern Ireland society.
I have asked all my questions: several that I was going to ask have been asked by other members. I liked Wallace’s question on maritime and aviation.
I have on my farm an old triumphal arch, which I recovered from my lodge. I am happy to donate that to the museum on behalf of the lodge.
What size is it? We have some storage issues.
This is one of the most interesting engagements that I have witnessed in the history of this Committee. We have noted the number of questions that Ken asked.
If I can read members’ minds, I sense that they will want to hold a meeting at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
You will all be very welcome.
We would like to do that.
Mr K Robinson:
I have one final question to ask, if I may.
In my constituency there is a shell of an absolutely wonderful building. Its inside is almost totally empty. What a stage that would make for exhibiting our history of the past 700 or 800 years.
I welcome those ideas. As the Committee appreciates, the capacity of our organisation, and our remit to respond to such ideas, is limited. However, I assure Mr Robinson that we have an aggressive and proactive campaign to raise funds from many different sources. For the Ulster Museum project, we have contacted every UK foundation. John Gilmour is head of the fund-raising side of the organisation.
Mr John Gilmour (National Museums Northern Ireland):
Through our fund-raising activities, we have raised almost a £1 million for the Ulster Museum towards the £14∙7 million refurbishment programme. That is in addition to the Heritage Lottery Fund grant that we have secured. We have an aggressive approach to fund raising and sponsorship: a lot more can be done, and there is huge potential out there. Much more can be done in Northern Ireland for all our museums in that respect.
Ken, have all your questions been addressed?
Mr K Robinson:
I have asked all my questions, and I am happy to wait for the answers.
I will try not to mention the rich history of Derry. You mentioned a figure of 800,000 visitors. Is a breakdown available of the numbers of people visiting each museum?
Yes. I will be happy to send that information to you rather than express it in broad terms.
Is there an upward trend? Are numbers are increasing each year? Do visitor numbers dip in some years — is there a problem that you have to confront? Do you have to put on extra exhibitions to ensure repeat visits?
It depends on where you start to look with examining graphs and trends. When the Ulster Museum had a big dinosaur exhibition back in the early 1990s, it took in 400,000 people that year. There is a fairly constant visiting pattern, which indicates a core level of visitors. We are trying to move beyond that with our exhibitions, our strategy and our investment in order to position ourselves and accommodate and help drive a growing market for local and international visitors.
We want to implement a range of measures to drive local audience development. It is not just about social class, or the C2DE visitors whom we mentioned earlier; it is about gender and geography and ensuring that our outreach programmes and engagement strategies offer something to everyone, no matter where they live or how close they are to a museum. Our outreach, education and loans programmes and our virtual sites are part of that mix.
People respond to high-profile, or out of the ordinary, exhibitions. People from Derry come to the Halloween and Christmas events at the Ulster American Folk Park. Those special events pull in people from a broader geographical area, not just from the immediate location.
I know that you will not be able to give me an answer today, but I would like to know how many people are employed in each of the projects. In your presentation, you say that the Ulster American Folk Park is a significant employer west of the Bann.
I can provide those figures for you. I can tell you that 53 people are employed full time in Omagh. There are several seasonal casual employees who boost that number from April until September. The Ulster Museum employs just over 100 people, and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has around 200 employees, but many of them are from all over Northern Ireland and beyond.
I support what Ken Robinson said about maritime heritage. We are proud to have the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboat the Sir Samuel Kelly on display in our council area in Donaghadee. However, unless and until something is done about its condition, it will disappear and we will lose it for ever.
Turning to the interpretation of our industrial heritage, the Committee was privileged, during its visit to Boston, to see an old working textile mill. We do not have anything similar, yet textiles were a large part of Northern Ireland’s industrial past, which is now gone. Can anything be done about that? I believe that a textile mill that could be used to tell the history of what happened here is under threat of demolition.
That type of eco-museum is very popular in Sweden. Is that what you are talking about, Kieran? Perhaps you could make your concluding remarks, Tim.
We are conscious of the need to tell the story of textiles in the context of our industrial heritage and broader history.
You have spoken about maritime heritage, Shorts and the shipyard, but you seem to be leaving out what I have talked about.
We are not, because we have looms and engines and a spade mill — although that has nothing to do with textiles, I suppose.
Within the overall story, we will look at brickworks, glass manufacturing and other issues that were important at the turn of the nineteenth century and through much of the twentieth century. We do not have a specific location-related project, such as a mill, which would be beyond our current capacity.
I am glad that that important part of our history has not been forgotten about.
We could undertake to let the Committee know how we are reflecting that aspect of our history.
Thank you for the spirit of the engagement and for the suggestions and points that have been made. We want to have constructive and continuing engagement with the Committee. We have a constructive engagement with the Department and appreciate its support in some of the strategic and practical matters that we address. We are committed to playing a role in developing this place, to allow people here to see who they are, where they have come from and where they want to go while holding a mirror to ourselves.
However, we also want to position ourselves as a window on the wider world, looking outward at world cultures and seeing how we fit in with that world across a whole range of subject matters. We want to play a role in supporting tourism, economic development, skills development, capacity building and people’s sense of themselves and what is possible for them. That is what drives us. The museums in their own right are important, but their social purpose is also important, and we are conscious of that as we proceed. We are committed to playing as significant a role as we can in making that contribution.
Thank you, Tim, John and Amanda. The Committee will be in touch about a visit to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and about having a Committee meeting there on the same day. Perhaps I could persuade the Committee to visit the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. It is a great facility; John knows all about that.
Is there anywhere that we can visit in Jim’s constituency?
We have one of our larger stores in Mr Shannon’s constituency.
Nelson McCausland has a proposal.
If we were to fine everybody a fiver every time that they mention their constituency, we could fund the Ulster Museum.