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Letter: Vague ‘Answers’ to Questions About Guildford Museum Policy

Published on: 2 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 2 Aug, 2020

Cllr James Steel

From John Perkins

In response to: Cllr Steel’s Lack of Knowledge About Guildford Museum is ‘Startling’

At the council meeting on July 28 (see webcast here), Cllr Paul Spooner (Con ‘ind’, Ash & Tongham) asked Cllr James Steel four questions. Details can be found here.

Cllr Steel (Lib Dem, Westborough), lead for Environment, did not really answer the first question, but offered excuses.

He said, “all museums are now being asked to address” decolonisation. Although there is a great deal of debate, there is no agreement that it must be done or even what the word means.

The Arts Council issued new guidelines for museums to assess significant or sacred objects with a view to considering repatriation. They have been asked to provide a decolonising check-list amid suggestions they could face financial repercussions if they fail to do so. But whether that unelected, though publicly-funded, body is likely to prosecute local museums if they do not comply is uncertain.

Cllr Steel also claimed NLHF (National Lottery Heritage Fund) is “withdrawing all funding bids”. Its website shows funding has been closed to new applications for only two programmes. Heritage Horizon Awards is closed only until 2022 and is intended for “backing big ideas”, clearly not applicable to small museums, and the Heritage Emergency Fund, which is intended to offer support during the Covid-19 crisis, was always going to close on July 31.

The second question was also not really answered, except to say the committee will “be talking to … stakeholders”. Are the public not stakeholders? In attempting to “put ourselves in a good position for future fund-raising”, Cllr Steel is speculating on the future demands of external organisations, which does not seem to be a good use of public resources.

The first part of his third answer was simply an attempt to pretend the use of the word “coupled” does not imply any linkage or partnership. That might come as a surprise to many people.

In the second part, he avoided answering the question by claiming it’s “incredibly dangerous” to use the term “All Lives Matter”. BLM supporters may find it offensive but implicit threats of this kind do not help the debate. Most of us are aware that minorities face discrimination, but persecution in Guildford on a daily basis?

In his fourth answer, Cllr Steel appeared to be asserting his independence from the Executive and council by insisting his own criteria and terms will define his work.

He admitted there is no ethnographic content in Guildford museum but claimed it might contain “unconscious bias” and need “democratisation”. He said Executive (though not the council, apparently) “approval could be considered for any items that it might be felt should be repatriated or subject to restitution”.

I have no objection to repatriating artefacts where the originating country has requested their return, including the Benin Bronzes and Elgin Marbles. But I strongly resent my taxes being spent on an attempt by a GBC councillor to bowdlerise the museum.

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Responses to Letter: Vague ‘Answers’ to Questions About Guildford Museum Policy

  1. J Brown Reply

    August 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    What about our “Historic Environment Champion”, Cllr Caroline Reeves?

    What has this “champion” done to protect heritage the assets in our borough? Anything?

    Has she spoken up to protect them? The answer is of course no. Quite frankly she should resign.

  2. Jacob Allen Reply

    August 2, 2020 at 8:40 pm

    I’m sensing a lot of “not in my back yard” vibes from Mr Perkins throughout this letter.

    It seems he acknowledges the problems exist, just not in Guildford.

    • John Perkins Reply

      August 3, 2020 at 2:07 pm

      Mr Allen should understand the difference between discrimination and persecution before making jibes.

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