It’s been a while since my last post, and for that you can blame the seasonal lurgy lurking about. But all my time sniffling into tissues inside has given me lots of time to ponder about various things. One thing that kept bubbling up in my brain was the trials and tribulations of heritage funding in the current climate, and particularly the rise of one source. Everywhere you seem to turn in the heritage sector at the moment, the Heritage Lottery Fund has swept in as a corporate saviour. For once, the funds actively try to support community projects, encouraging local groups to apply in for any amount from £3000 to over 5 million. They’re the driving force behind the transformation of Stonehenge with its spanking new visitor centre; and whether you think its a feast or a flop its nice to see someone taking an active interest in preserving the site for a change. The St Mary’s university church in Oxford, opposite my old college, has been attempting to raise the money to restore its degrading roof for years; the HLF has recently stepped into the ring and now the church looks good as new (although Oxford is still full of scaffolding during the down season). The Future Curators project, where early career curators can develop skills and contacts spending six months working at the British Museum and a year at a sister museum, is funded by them; as is the Inspired by the Crystal Palace Subway project I am a part of. I was never a fan of playing the lottery, but now whenever my Nana buys her ticket I feel like there’s hope left for the heritage sector!
One of the many intermittent jobs I have taken on in this year of semi-retirement and baking is working as a tour guide for the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, something else partially funded by the HLF. Indirectly, I owe my job to them! The library originated through the efforts of one man, Dr. Alfred Wiener, to record the anti-Semitic propaganda and activities he noticed in the 1920s and ended up being used not only by the British Ministry of Information during WWII but also to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Every Tuesday at 1pm a tour is run, open to the public, which is normally started by a brief explanation of the history of the library and its founder; but currently an exhibition is being held marking the 80th anniversary of the library’s foundation. This display goes into a great deal of fascinating detail, focusing not only on Wiener’s early life writing against anti-Semitism, but also on the active role the library plays in memorialising individuals and in modern genocide studies. It recently received a selection of documents from the Rwandan community and the exhibition also holds a drawing done by a Darfuri child depicting the attacks on his village, one of hundreds used as evidence in court cases. It’s only on until the 19th February so get down there!
One of my favourite things about living in the Big Smoke is the sheer number of historical buildings and places packed into every available corner. People often act disbelieving when I wax lyrical on how wonderful London is, but how can I not when there are 240 museums alone?! How they all keep afloat is beyond me, but must be a testimony to some pretty determined finance officers behind the scenes. Unfortunately, one area where funding is still super-tight is in research. Most PhD application deadlines have now passed and people will be waiting for funding news, where the forecast is depressing. However, the determination by museum and heritage groups to ensure access to the public, as well as the amazing free exhibitions on offer, shows that their passion for protecting shared human history has not been forgotten in the all-too-common scrambles for public money. This at least makes me think that one day, I might end up with a job 😀