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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Beyond South Ken
Of course, it's very annoying that they're even thinking of closing one of our national museums to make ends meet - but within that general annoyance there's a more specific one, exemplified in this Guardian headline: "Science Museum's northern outposts under threat of closure". Lest we blame the subeditors, these museums are also referred to as "outposts" in the main article.

Since when were Manchester, Bradford and York, or the national museums based there, "outposts"? That's the kind of word you might expect Caesar to use of a dispatch from Housesteads, or Victoria of the latest report from the North-West Frontier. Would a Washington-based newspaper write of a national museum based in Chicago as an "outpost"?

Words are important, because they both betray and reinforce the London-centric worldview of those who make these decisions. It's not just about words, though. While the Science Museum Group claims to be considering "all options" to help balance the books, there's one option that hasn't even entered its head - and that is, closing the Science Museum in London; or, better, relocating it somewhere less expensive. Birmingham, the city of a thousand trades, would seem an excellent candidate, though I'm sure there are others.

Why is that not on the list of "all options"? Does it even make the list of Conceivable Things? London is already well served for national museums, after all. Hell, South Kensington is well served! Moving a major national museum to a different part of the nation would boost Birmingham's (or wherever's) tourist trade while having no perceptible effect on London's, help rebalance the economy, and save money into the bargain. What's not to like?

And, as someone pointed out on Facebook, the amount of public money that was spent on Thatcher's funeral would have kept these "outpost" museums open for another year.

What is more, the science museum is rubbish these days. It went over to trendy "interactive" displays back in the 90s, but that is so old-fashioned these days. Kids can get most of what the science museum offers at home on TV, DVD or their computers. What they aren't making the most of is the real thing, the real old artefacts, and this is what the regional museums do so well.

That's a good point about the "hi-tech" displays. Nothing dates as quickly as the future.

Birmingham, the city of a thousand trades, would seem an excellent candidate

Actually, Birmingham already has a science museum. All the more reason, of course, why there's no real need to bother replicating it in an outpost like London...

True - and when they have HS2 up and running the poor culture-starved Londoners will be able to make the trip up to Town even more conveniently.

Would a Washington-based newspaper write of a national museum based in Chicago as an "outpost"?

Actually, they probably would. There is an oft-remarked tendency of Eastern seaboard upper-crusters, whose experience of the rest of the US rarely consists of anything but plane flights to LA or Las Vegas, to refer to everything in between as "flyover country." This hurts Chicago's feelings in particular.

That's interesting. I'd heard the term "flyover states", but assumed somehow that they might make a few exceptions. In my mind (which may be sadly out of date), Chicago is up there with New York and LA as on the Big American Cities.

It is big, but it doesn't have the cultural cache of being on a coast.


It has the cache of being on a shore, at least!

It is - and you'll see terms like "Second City" used for Chicago, e.g. on the local comedy troupe that gave birth to John Belushi et al. Like 'whig' and 'tory', it was originally an insult term that was adopted with pride. In the upshot, the belief that Chicago is the U.S.'s #2 city, NYC being #1, is firmly fixed locally; thus the hurt and confusion at its being also lumped in with the flyover region.

The parallels with Birmingham become ever more insistent...

As far as actual national museums in the US go, in fact we're in a similar situation. The only real national, federally-run museum is the Smithsonian, which is now a score of museums of the sciences, arts, and history clustered as tightly around the National Mall in D.C. as anything is in South Kensington. It grants "affiliate" title to museums elsewhere, but that's just a gold badge of approval; it doesn't indicate any degree of control or authority.

But even if the Smithsonian is the first among American museums, several others are in the same league of distinction, including a couple in Chicago, as it happens, a science museum and this art museum. I believe both of them are self-owned, i.e. they belong to non-profit corporations whose main function is running the museum.

Oh, but those places are North Of The River! Provincial! There Be Dragons!
I'm a Midlander. I've never lived in London. I've never had easy access to a wide choice of museums, theatres and amenities. I haven't had access to decent public transport since I was 7. We non-Londoners don't matter.

That's the difference between £70 per head (London) and £4.60 per head (rest of England) of public funding for arts institutions and museums.

Yep. After all, us flat-capped whippet-lovers don't understand 'culture'.
Mutters darkly...

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Someone on LJ (I think it may have been poliphilo) mentioned a while ago a BBC reference to David Hockney as living "in self-imposed exile" - in Yorkshire.