Directors' blog

Links, thoughts and updates from the directors of Dim Sum Digital.

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Just published: Engaging Heritage, Engaging Communities

leave a comment

We’ve just received a very crisp copy of Engaging Heritage, Engaging Communities which Julian has contributed a chapter to.

His chapter is titled Museums and the Symbolic Capital of Social Media Space and joins an expert list of contributions to a volume which forms part of the Heritage Matters series. It is a series of edited and single-authored volumes which addresses the whole range of issues that confront the cultural heritage sector facing the global challenges of the 21st century.

In their introduction to the book, editors Bryony Onciul, Michelle L Stefano and Stephanie Hawke explain that the book first started its journey in 2009 and followed on from a conference held in Newcastle.

The two-day conference sparked discussions on heritage, museums and community engagement that, over the years, have influenced and shaped this volume.

The book is available from this Friday (27th Jan).

Written by sarahhartley

January 21st, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Culture

Tagged with , , ,

Getting access to art treasures kept for the nation in private homes

leave a comment


Example of a local treasure by the artist Zoffany: Sir Lawrence Dundas and his Grandson Lawrence (circa 1775). Picture shared via creative commons on Wikipedia.

Tax relief for national heritage assets is a little known HMRC scheme, a system which means wealthy art collectors to gain tax relief in return for allowing the public access to their treasures.

So if you’ve ever wondered what paintings lie behind the gates of the imposing halls and grand houses across the North of England, our lords and ladies continue to enjoy their treasured possessions thanks to this provision and it also means you and I have the right to take a look inside and enjoy our shared cultural heritage.

It’s a topic I’ve written about in more depth for thee latest issue of The Northern Correspondent, the home of long-form journalism for the North East.

Now in its sixth issue, the magazine is available by subscription and at a limited number of outlets.

As editor Ian Wylie explains, the magazine is an important publication for the region in face of diminishing quality coverage of northern concerns.

It’s a region that deserves and need its stories to be told and heard in depth, but the opportunities to tell and hear these stories are fast diminishing. In the past decade, 20% of the UK’s local newspapers have closed. Cuts in the numbers of journalists and the production of local newspapers or regional programmes many miles from the communities they serve, added to our growing use of social media means that we’re more likely to know what’s going on in New York or New Zealand than in Newcastle.

The Northern Correspondent

You can read more about my look at the tax exempt artworks in the magazine or find out further information via a searchable map of the country’s available objects here.

The HMRC rules state:

  • You should normally be allowed access:
  • as soon as is reasonably practical
  • on the day you want, from a choice of at least 3 weekdays and 2 Saturdays or Sundays within 4 weeks of your request
  • at a time between 10am and 4pm


Written by sarahhartley

December 22nd, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Aside from the BBC, what’s the culture secretary’s plan?

leave a comment

It could have a been a slip of the tongue. The second slip of the tongue, in fact, during his non-probing interview with Andrew Marr on BBC1 this morning.

But something left me feeling that the culture secretary John Whittingdale chose his words carefully when he confirmed that ‘national museums’ would remain free to entry. The point was further re-inforced by his clumsy reference to London as a ‘country’. (The segment can be found on iPlayer at minute 38).

What would become of all the amazing museums and galleries that are not either in the capital or represent national collections?

I turned to the Conservative manifesto – just one line (P41) refers to the issue but yes, the same phrase: “keep our major national museums and galleries free to enter.”

‘Major national

And the minister’s sign off on the topic provided no comfort either – highlighting the capital’s museums and galleries’ role in increasing tourism.

While tourism is a welcome side effect of engagement with our cultural institutions, it’s worrying if that’s to become the ultimate measure of a museum’s success. What about our cultural identity, our education and understanding our heritage?

Any limitation or change to the free access rules wasn’t the expectation of the Arts Council ahead of the election. In April, it understood the commitment to be:

“The Conservative manifesto commits to maintaining free access to museums and galleries and supporting plans for the Factory in Manchester, an India Gallery at Manchester Museum, a Great Exhibition in the North and a new concert hall in London. They also promise to maintain and potentially extend tax reliefs for the arts and creative industries and deliver free Wi-Fi and support for e-books in libraries.”

So was it simply a lack of expansion in the minister’s communication on live television or a signal of something more worrying to come? Time will tell I guess.

I realise there will be some reading this blog post who consider museums and art galleries to be a fluffy luxury of the middle classes. Maybe some who don’t see the value in ‘these times of austerity’.

To those I’d say, museum’s aren’t simply repositories of old stuff for overseas visitors to enjoy, they are living, changing reflections of our society, an important part of the fabric which binds us together even in our modern times.

There’s a reason so many were started by Victorian philanthropists – they knew that access to culture provided for a more peaceful and productive working population.

To use an extreme example, there’s also a reason IS so determinedly destroy cultural artefacts – they are not mere trinkets, cultural destruction is one of the surefire ways to destroy a society.

The UK is fairly unusual in Europe with the free entrance introduced in 2001 and it has been widely enjoyed by many. It’s worth remembering that the initial moves were only legislated for those ‘major national’ institutions. But then, as the Museums Association discovered, the move had a detrimental impact on those independent museums and those outside London:

Free entry at national museums has inevitably had an impact on the rest of the museums sector – particularly on independent museums, which rely on charging. This has led some to argue that free entry amounts to unfair government subsidy.

There is some evidence that charging museums – particularly those near newly free museums – have experienced a decline in visitor numbers. There was also a perception that free admission was weighted heavily in favour of apparently already wealthy London museums with little benefit to the whole spread of museums throughout the UK.

The pressure from those that had been excluded in 2001 led to changes from the DCMS of the time which allowed more museums, including University museums and galleries, to introduce free entry in 2005.

That’s how we got the decade of free entrance we’ve all since enjoyed. Let’s hope Mr Whittingdale can find the time to travel abroad (outside that London country) to understand how important that has been and ensure the next decade of free access.






Written by sarahhartley

July 19th, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Culture