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Secret Memos Detail UK Museums’ Brexit Fears; V&A Warns of Scrapping Shows and ’Struggle’ to Remain Open

In further news: cultural figures demand resignation of Germany’s foreign minister; Joan Miró paintings damaged in Venice floods

Central garden, V&A, London, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Central garden, V&A, London, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Central garden, V&A, London, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Leading UK museums’s fears of a no-deal Brexit scenario have been uncovered in a series of secret memos. Institutions such as London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum are concerned about the expenses of importing foreign artworks, and the prospect of declining tourist figures and staffing shortages. A V&A memo to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, written on 4 September 2018, claimed that it might be forced to close temporarily as 44 percent of its customer service staff are EU nationals: ‘We will struggle to keep the museum open to the public in the immediate short term’. The museum also expressed worry about import costs for loaned pieces, which it says could run up to GBP£25 million. Tristram Hunt, V&A director and former Labour party politician, told the Evening Standard: ‘Our ability to hold blockbuster exhibitions while having to pay import duties would be really problematic.’ The documents were revealed by a Freedom of Information request by the People’s Vote campaign, which is calling for a second referendum. People’s Vote campaigner and former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said: ‘The mess created by the Brexit elite in Westminster is now casting a long shadow over the future of our great museums.’

Meanwhile UK MPs are calling on the government to save the Black Cultural Archives. The heritage centre based in London’s Brixton is dedicated to the history of African and Caribbean people in Britain, and is the only one of its kind in the country. The centre has seen its funding fall by two-thirds in the past few months and faces closure. More than 100 cross-party MPs have now signed a letter asking the government to step in to to safeguard the centre. In recent years, the BCA has largely relied on Heritage Lottery money, which has come to an end.

Two Joan Miró paintings have been badly damaged in floods in Venice, which led the city’s museums to temporarily shutter earlier this week. The Miró works, together estimated at EUR€1 million, became submerged at the Palazzo Zaguri museum following a bathroom leak – they have since been removed for urgent restoration. The floods are the worst recorded in Venice for a decade.

More than 8,000 cultural figures are calling for Germany’s interior minister to resign over his controversial comments on immigration. A petition signed by thousands including artists Monica Bonvicini, Rosemarie Trockel and Natascha Sadr Haghighian, who will represent Germany at the Venice Biennale next year, as well as the former director of Kunsthalle Wien, Nicolaus Schafhausen, and current ICA London director, Stefan Kalmár, are demanding that Horst Seehofer step down after the politician described immigration as ‘the mother of all political problems’. Seehofer also suggested that he would have taken part in a violent extreme-right protest in Chemnitz were he not a sitting politician. The petition has described Seehofer’s comments as ‘outrageous’ and declared him unfit for office.

In movements: former Met director Thomas Campbell will head up Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (succeeding Max Hollein who in the meantime has taken up the Met directorship); Kimerly Rorschach, director and CEO of the Seattle Art Museum is stepping down after seven years of leadership; and in a surprise move, Bill Arning has abruptly resigned from his post as director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston after 10 years helming the institution.

In awards and grants news: Paris’s Institut du Monde Arabe has received a donation of nearly 1,300 pieces by 94 artists of Arab origin from the collection of Claude and France Lemand, with a fund also established to support ‘acquisitions, organize exhibitions, research works and public catalogues’; and Trevor Paglen has won the 2018 Nam June Paik Art Center Prize, which comes with an award of USD$44,000 and a solo show at the Nam June Paik Art Center in South Korea next year. 

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