London museums urged to show more ‘hidden’ artefacts

Many museums in the capital keep more than 90% of their collections stored away.

The Museums Association says despite the current economic climate it wants to challenge venues to offer more to the public.

The government says national museums will face a funding cut of 15%.

A BBC Freedom of Information request found the British Museum had spent £86,280 in 2009 and 2010 keeping 99% of its collection in storage.

The Natural History Museum spent £45,928 on storage space for 95% of its specimen collections.

The Tate (Modern, Britain, St Ives and Liverpool) expects to spend £465,500 on storage by the end of the financial year and the National Maritime Museum spent £142,361 in 2010.

The Wallace Collection, under the terms of the bequest from Lady Wallace, cannot loan out or keep works stored off-site.

Unparalleled collection

The Imperial War Museum reduced its storage costs in 2010 from £8,731 to £3,351 and the National Gallery and the Science Museum (not including subsidiary museums outside London) do not hire any storage space for their collections but do have objects out of view.

Sally Cross, of the Museums Association, said the venues had some of the country’s most valuable collections and so it was important they «take great care» of them.

«Some of the material is quite vulnerable such as paper drawings, textiles and costumes. They can be damaged if on display for a long time.

«With budget cuts it’s harder to put on temporary exhibitions and they cost a lot so we’ll probably see fewer blockbuster exhibitions, but I hope museums can use their stored collections to fill those gaps and refresh what they offer to the audience.»

Vulnerable material

A statement from the British Museum said it «maintains a large collection of objects from across the globe from two million years ago to the present day».

«The preservation of this unparalleled collection for current and future generations is a key purpose of the British Museum, we therefore make the safety and security of our storage facilities a paramount aim.»

Angela Doane, director of collections at the National Maritime Museum, said it spent £142, 361 on storing 93% of its 4,000 paintings and 70,000 prints and drawings because so much of it was fragile.

«They can’t be placed on permanent display but they are very good for temporary changing exhibitions and they are always available through museum archives and special appointments.»

She said the museum was soon to open a new library and archive facility which would triple the amount of material available to see.