WHY I’M NOT CARRYING AN OLYMPIC TORCH
16.07.2011 / Dea Birkett / 0 Comments
Dea Birkett, director of Kids in Museums, on why museums racing to keep up with the 2012 Games are on to a loser
Like everyone else I know, I've failed to get any Olympic tickets. But museums are determined I'm not going to miss out on the spirit of the Games. They're putting on exhibitions with titles like Games People Play and Oxford's Sporting Heritage. They're inviting me to family events to get fit or explore the his- tory of sport in my area. Some have been even quicker off the starting block than the athletes themselves. Ironbridge staged its London 2012 Open Weekend this month [July].
I'm not convinced this race to be part of the biggest show on earth makes sense. As one London museum said, "We assume that we will not get any extra footfall during Games time, in fact it may decrease as people stop in to watch the Olympics". Past Games are thought to prove that major attractions don't generally see a hike in visitor numbers during an Olympics year. It's two or three years later, as a result of the host city being firmly planted on holidaymakers' mental map, that numbers increase. And that, it might follow, would be the best time to put on your blockbuster.
Yet museums are determinedly courting visitors away from the stadiums, fields and tracks. There are exhibitions on the history of sport all over the country, from Lanarkshire to Suffolk. Surrey museums are staging cos- tumed re-enactments of important sporting events in the county. "The eyes of the sporting world may be looking to London this year, but the genuine Olympic action will
be taking place in Rochdale!" boasts one bit of museum marketing. I do hope I'm proved wrong and visitors will flock to these faux events. But challenging the Olympics to a race is a game surely most museums will lose.
If you do set out to rival the pull of 2012, why not do so with something entirely different? Stories of the World - an excellent programme involving young people in museums - is part of the Cultural Olympiad, but rarely does one of the projects include swimming, rowing or basketball amongst the subjects covered. Why have a sport themed exhibition when there will be so many sport themed events on offer? Surely it would be better to put on an exhibition of Ancient Egyptian cats.
Following on my last column, here's more about why museums won't charge different rates for private and state school visits, a decision I consider bonkers in challenging financial times. But museums see it differ- ently, and are a little irate that I might suggest something as unfair as means testing. One wrote there was, "no jus- tification for charging differing rates. In our view this would have meant in effect penalising private schools for having more funds or using them to subsidise the state schools. We therefore charge the same rates for all schools". Some museums may even subsidise fee-paying schools. "Private schools make up a large part of our vis- itors" wrote one. "We do have an access fund provided by the museum friends organisation to which schools can apply for help funding their visit. This is mostly used by state schools but has been used by private schools in the past".
Perhaps we should use funding to provide fee-paying pupils with free Olympic seats. Ooops, forgot. We're doing that already. The Ticketshare scheme, which is allo- cating 125,000 tickets to London schoolchildren funded through a levy placed on 2012 hospitality packages, is open to any school. A large number of private preparatory schools have already applied.
I think I'll just take my kids on a city break instead next summer - somewhere they can visit a museum that does- n't have an exhibition reminding me of what I can't see.
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