Lost Museums?

2021 – Project

(R) Researcher

Bethany Rex

Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, Warwick University

View the Artwork

Lost Museums? A creative response to museum closures 

Since 2008 more than 50 local museums have closed across the UK. These closures are a symptom of the austerity measures introduced by central government in 2010. By speaking to decision-makers, former employees and residents affected by the closure of local museums my research aims to understand current ways of thinking about museums, as it is contrasting perspectives on questions such as ‘what is a museum’, ‘who are museums for’ and ‘how should museums be used’ that underlie arguments about museum closures.  

This collaboration with Coventry-based poet and rapper John Bernard, which focuses on the closure of Dudley Museum and Art Gallery in 2016, provided us both with an opportunity to reflect on issues of equality, democracy and public space during times of austerity.  

John’s poem was written in response to two interviews I conducted, one with a local resident who was a frequent visitor to the museum and led the campaign against its closure and another with a council officer who, along with local councillors, was involved in the decision to close the museum and relocate the collection to another site, outside the town centre. I shared the interview transcripts with John, along with my preliminary analysis of the materials I’d been gathering in relation to the closure, which we discussed through video conversations online. 

The sense of disillusionment, and the doors for cultural opportunity closing were palpable.

During our visit to Dudley to film for the final piece we were joined by the local resident who I had interviewed. They showed us around the town, starting at the museum, explaining how the closure of the museum had been accompanied by other changes locally. There was a feeling that it had become more difficult for residents to access public cultural facilities over the years, especially if they didn’t drive. I found this experience deeply moving, as it became clear what the closure had meant to the interviewee. Not only had the opportunity to spend time in the museum been removed, but so too had their faith in their voice as a local citizen with the ability to influence decisions. The sense of disillusionment, and the doors for cultural opportunity closing were palpable.   

With all this in mind, the inscription on the side of the museum which reads ‘The rocks of the imagination still remain’ seems deeply and doubly significant, as a trace of history and former ambitions for museums and as a call to consider the legacy of austerity for the museum futures.   

For me, John’s piece captures the challenge of interpreting closures, of balancing our knowledge of the uncomfortable history of many museums with empathy with those who are deeply affected by the loss of a cultural facility and all that it meant to them. 

I am really grateful to those who agreed to be interviewed for this research and to John for his open and reflective approach to the collaboration. 

To read more about the story of Dudley Museum and Art Gallery, and the other museums to have closed since 2008, go to www.lost-museums.com. 

(A) Artist

John Bernard

Poet, rapper and writer

There is always something special that happens when you come out of your comfort zone.

Working with Dr Bethany Rexlocal videographer Daniel Taiwo and creative producers Kudzai Zvomuya and Panashe Malunga to create this poetry film has been a memorable process for me that took me out of my comfort zone. Growing up in a city which houses two incredible museums that have been a huge part of many people’s childhood experience, it was strange to think that this service was not readily available for everyone. What this collaboration has done for me is it has opened my eyes to an area that I would not have focussed on if it were not for this project. 

Closure – Poem by John Bernard 

Museums have the power to unify, especially on a local level

Providing communities, an opportunity, to celebrate the beauty of seeing a particular part of their history settled,

There are several, ways in which museums shape our societies

From fostering dialogue, constantly conjuring curiosity, self reflection inspiring thoughts 

That could lead to ignited hearts, trailblazing— on enlightened paths to inspire all

This tangible, link to our past, if broken then how do we appreciate culture

How do we measure which closure is least important?

Shouldn’t these collections remain accessible to the public?

Austerity doesn’t seem to be budging, meaning some museums have conceded to a depleting budget

To many people these closures are difficult to digest and its even harder to rise above it, 

When childhood memories were recorded on the hallways of these time capsules, 

Where the freedom to explore, matched your, inquiring young mind 

But like all sectors, museum services have been impacted

Petitions sent out to galvanise some collective action 

People vocalising their concerns, trying to over turn and over ride what has churned 

Now in places like Dudley, which saw the closure of two Museum it feels like progress has been adjourned 

However, the closures are not as straightforward as we have learned,

Some are politically motivated and others are based on cuts, under- investment 

In most cases, those at the top still benefit when those at the bottom are under recession 

With all these closures signifying shifting ideas about what museums are and who they are truly for

The history of museums is interwoven seamlessly in the pockets of colonial rule

Industrial capitalism, white and middle class audience where does the ample views of the working class actually fall?

Could it be that what is lost should be left unaccounted for?

Guess it all depends on which side of the tracks you are from. 

John and Daniel walk through Dudley with camera equipment

John Bernard is a Coventry based poet, rapper & writer who uses his artistry to inspire, influence and invigorate his listeners with meaningful messages. His work commentates on social issues, youth empowerment, faith and purpose. Distinctive delivery, commanding voice, an intricate lyricist his content is authentically raw and potent. He has undoubtedly carved a lane for himself infusing Spoken Word poetry, Alternative-Rap and Neo- Soul. 

Orphaned by the age of 11, in the Youth Offenders system by the age of 15 and pushed to the brink of succumbing to the perils of gang culture by 17. It was not until the age of 18, when life took an optimistic turn as he realised the importance of living a purpose driven life. This realisation inspired him to pursue a career in the arts which has led to his work receiving nationwide coverage. 


Tell us – what you think

We hope you are enjoying this digital exhibition from Coventry Creates. We would really appreciate your thoughts and feedback about what you have experienced. This quick form will only take 1-2 minutes of your time and will help us understand how much of an impact these collaborative projects are having in our community.

Thank you!

On a scale of 1-5, tell us what you think about this project...

(1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

It was absorbing and held my attention.

It was well thought through and put together.

It had something new or thought-provoking to say about the world in which we live.

It has challenged me to think about my attitudes and values.

I feel inspired to seek out more information or take action.

I found this an interesting and creative way to engage with the topic.

Please write three words to describe your experience of this work.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your experience of this work?

A digital exhibition of creative work by local artists, each an interpretation of academic research from Coventry University and University of Warwick. Building on last year’s show created during the lockdown, there are 12 new projects for 2021, each aiming to change how we perceive and experience our worlds.

The collaborative commissions this year explore how Covid-19 has impacted hospice care, what museum closures mean to communities, whether artificial intelligence can create art, how we can promote respectful interactions around names, what an ideal society looks like for women of colour, and more.

Coventry Creates is part of the ongoing work by Coventry and Warwick universities in the lead up to and during the City of Culture. The University Partnership has funded over 60 creative research projects, involving many diverse Coventry organisations and local communities. The University of Warwick and Coventry University are both principal partners of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.

Arts Council England LogoCoventry City of Culture Principal Partner Logo

More information about Coventry Creates