For the JC May 2020
The financially troubled Jewish Museum has been given almost £1 million in bailout cash from Arts Council England, which now will be involved in helping to choose the institution’s next director, following the departure of Abigail Morris.
There are also questions over whether its Camden Town building will reopen after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted following news last week that the museum’s new strategy is to focus on its online education work.
The museum insisted its exhibitions were “on pause”, but its newly appointed interim director, the former head of education Frances Jeens, has admitted that “the museum building will remain closed for the foreseeable future in line with both government advice and changing audience needs”.
Lord Young of Graffham, who has stepped down as chair of the Jewish Museum after a 10-year stint, told the JC that his long-term ambition to move the museum from Camden Town to central London had been thwarted by the failure of two synagogues, Marble Arch and Great Portland Street, to merge.
The Jewish Museum had had plans drawn up to move into the vacated Marble Arch premises, Lord Young said, but “shul politics”, as he phrased it, had failed to reach agreement and the move was abandoned.
Lord Young said the Camden Town premises “did not receive enough footfall” to make the museum viable.
But though he believed charities — “and museums are luxury charities” — would suffer, Lord Young said: “I would hate to see the Jewish Museum close. We need it more than ever”.
The Arts Council support comes following the Jewish Museum’s withdrawal from the National Portfolio Organisation in February. Arts Council England (ACE) — which was due to give the museum £220,000 a year between 2018 and 2022 — has now rolled up that money and given the entire sum, plus £100,000 in February, and now a further £195,000, to help the museum refocus its digital strategy.
In addition, the museum received £4 million over the past four years from the Kirsh Family Foundation, and £500,000 from Ajex and the Jewish Military Museum (JMM) to pay for moving the JMM collection into the Camden Town building.
The collection has been on loan to the Jewish Museum for the past five years — but negotiations to extend the loan period have now been suspended because of the pandemic. Doubt over the future of the Jewish Museum’s exhibitions policy also makes it unclear what will happen to the collection.
Despite all this support — a number of foundations in the community have also given considerable sums — the Jewish Museum accounts have shown the institution to be in deficit, year on year.
The latest accounts are more than three months overdue, although the museum said they would be presented to the board of trustees on May 27 at its annual general meeting.
ACE, meanwhile, has standard wording in its funding agreement which allows it to have a say in choosing both trustees and a chief executive.
It said: “The Arts Council reserves the right to be consulted in the process of recruitment and invited to attend interviews when the organisation is recruiting trustees and/or senior staff”.
A spokesperson for the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has a deal whereby the museum must pay it a £3.8 million charge on the Camden Town premises if it is sold, said: “The National Lottery Heritage Fund provided significant investment to develop and expand the Jewish Museum on the Camden site. We want to support the museum through the process of developing a new sustainable future.”
The museum has appointed Tanya Persey as interim chair to succeed Lord Young.
On the concerns over its continued occupation of the building in Camden, the Jewish Museum said: “A phased reopening is a central objective of the current leadership”.
Confirming that it had received the ACE money, it added: “ACE awarded additional funding to support planning for the museum’s future and the care and preservation of its nationally outstanding collection. This exceptional course of action has been taken because of the organisation’s strategic significance nationally and its important work with the museum sector, local people and the wider Jewish community.”
It also said: “The review of the current business model includes a refocusing of the museum’s workstreams to ensure it is working within the funding available.”