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Dear George: a word on the threatened closure of the National Media Museum

6th June 2013

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Hey Osborne. Bradford is UNESCO’s City of Film. So why am I hearing you’re threatening the future of its National Media Museum?

It’s an internal thud that I’ve only felt a couple of times during recent years of ‘failing economy’ and ‘cutbacks’ and ‘recession’. I’m not going to pretend I’ve been directly affected by much of it, as selfish as it might sound. I neatly avoided the university tuition fee increase and the lack of spending that has meant my brother’s sixth form experience has been far less varied that mine ever was. I had left home by the time the streets I’d grown up on became a borderline soulless mass of discount clothing and pound-a-pop retailers.  

The news that the National Media Museum is under threat, however, hits close to home.

Let’s explain how this has come about as briefly as possible, George. Your comprehensive spending review on the 26th of this month is likely to see further cuts made to the Science Museum Group, which has responsibility for the National Media Museum (Bradford), the Science Museum (London), the National Railway Museum (York) and the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester).

All these museums are absolutely vital. But it is the first that I’m fighting the corner of.

Because it has the lowest number of annual visitors (almost half a million last year - in a city of less than 300,000 people), the National Media Museum is the most likely to be forced to close its doors. So, why should we save it?

I’ll just throw out a few reasons, George.

The museum is home to the UK’s first IMAX cinema. The IMAX is something that terrified me as a child. It seemed a definite possibility that I was going to get sucked into the screen, over the edge of the Grand Canyon and into the deepest depths of space. Nevertheless (maybe because of this) it remains one of the best cinema experiences you can have. Where else can you actually, truly believe that it is happening right in front of you? Film can be intense and terrifying. Many people realise this after wandering into the IMAX by chance after a morning walking around the museum. Many people would not experience this if the museum no longer existed.

The nearest IMAX is 38 miles away in the centre of Manchester. London has eight.

The National Media Museum houses two other cinemas - the Pictureville and the Cubby Broccoli - and runs the Bradford International Film Festival and Bradford Animation Festival, amongst numerous other events. 

What would happen to these cinemas and festivals if the museum shut, George? Surely the world’s first UNESCO City of Film requires more than an Odeon and a Cineworld? I think you probably agree that it does.

The National Media Museum has events like Bollywood Icons: 100 Years of Indian Cinema, which might not seem like a particularly unique event for those in London who are inundated with film festivals what seems like every other week thanks to the glorious work of the BFI et al, but believe me – it isn’t the same everywhere.

In London, we have a multitude of (largely free) cultural excursions to fill up our rainy days, our skint days, the days when we want to escape the 9-5 drag and remind ourselves that there’s a world of culture out there. I could reel off ten awe-inspiring free things to do in the space of ten seconds. It’s easy to forget when you’re in the capital bubble, but you can’t do that for many other places in the UK. At the moment, Bradford has the National Media Museum.

We’ll also need to find a new home for the 3.5 million television, cinema photography and media items that make up our collective cultural past.

It is on the site of the National Media Museum that one of the first cinema screenings outside London took place, in April 1896. It’s here that in 2013 people who know nothing about history or politics and might otherwise never ask see the Pulitzer-winning photograph of Kim Phuc and start thinking about photojournalism and Vietnam. 

I could talk for a long time about how important it is to save the National Media Museum, formerly the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, a bastion of my childhood and probably that of a lot of other kids that grew up within a few miles of notoriously deprived Bradford.

(Who remembers the flying carpet/TV set-up upstairs, which had the potential to send us flying over the plains above a herd of antelopes one minute, and over the burning ruins of castles in the next?)

I could talk about the museum shop, which has led to my lifelong obsession with museum and art gallery bookshops and henceforth a London flat close to where I work in media that is piled high with such books, which (hey, did you guess?) I probably wouldn’t be tripping over on my way to work every day if it wasn’t for the fact that I spent approximately one third of my childhood in the National Media Museum.

‘The media’ (buzzword) is an industry that is notoriously difficult to crack, even more so if you’re a teenager in West Yorkshire with no money to spend on exorbitantly priced trains or hotels to sleep in whilst you’re working for free, who sees the BBC and the Guardian and Film4 and thinks – shit, that’s a whole other world. I can’t do that.

It is places like the National Media Museum, providing the social bridge that they do, that teach those growing up in our most deprived cities that there is more waiting for them.

The museum is the home of BBC Bradford, after all. You can see it in action. Barriers are broken down. If you want social mobility, you aren’t going to get it by shutting this off.

So, George, it only really comes down to one thing: Do you WANT kids in Bradford and Huddersfield and Halifax and the surrounding towns that have suffered so much over the last few years to have less chance of being inspired than they do already? Do you want to cut off aspiration completely?

Save the National Media Museum by signing the petition here.

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