Demonstration outside closed Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

By Barrie Hudson - 19 July 2021

CommunityArts and Culture
  • The gathering attracted about 100 people

    The gathering attracted about 100 people

"Free our croc!" was the rallying cry at a protest outside Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in Bath Road today - 19 July.

About 100 people attended the demonstration against the continued closure of the Museum and Art Gallery.
Swindon Borough Council insisted that the current building was unfit for purpose but pledged that a fixed location for the collection would be found as soon as possible.
"Free our croc" is a reference to the much-loved preserved gharial - a large fish-eating reptile - which is perhaps the museum's best-known exhibit.
Among those present at the gathering today were South Swindon Parish Council chair Chris Watts, parish councillor and former Mayor of Swindon Stan Pajak, borough council Labour Group leader Jim Grant, poet
Tony Hillier and Swindon artist Ken White, whose work is displayed throughout the world.
One of the organisers, parish councillor and Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery chair Linda Kasmaty, told the crowd: "This is beyond our expectations - the support for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.
"What we can do about this is write to some of the people who are responsible for not reopening this door again.
"This door has been closed - for a good reason, covid - since the 18th of March 2020, and today is the day it should have been opened.
"We're all used to being responsible for each other, and we could have opened the door for the children's workshops due to start at the beginning of the summer holidays.
"We do want a new one but we can't have a new one immediately. We understand that, but this building needs to be opened.
"We're going to keep on until we get what we want."
Ken White fondly recalled the retrospective edition of his work hosted at the museum and art gallery in 2019, while Swindon Museum of Computing co-founder and curator Simon Webb remembered his own early experiences of the Museum and Art Gallery.
He said: "I've got very strong feelings about this. I used to come to the museum club here when I was a boy of about 10 years old, and it inspired me - it really gave me a love of museums.
"When we started the Museum of Computing some 16 years ago I always said I would love to start a children's computer club the same as they ran here. We did that and it's been one of the most successful things we've done. I'm just absolutely passionate about not closing this until there is another base, another location for the art.
"It can't go into storage - we'll never see it again."
Museum of Computing co-founder Jeremy Holt, who helped to organise the demonstration, said: "The difference between Father Christmas and Swindon Borough Council is that some people believe in Father Christmas!"
South Swindon Parish Council chair Chris Watts said: "This is a very clear message from the people of Swindon that we do not want this facility to close down unless another, better, facility is in place and ready to go. People do not want to see this stuff put into storage. 
"People travel from all over the country to see the art works, and it travels all over the country, so to put it in storage would be a crime."
The demonstration prompted a statement from Cllr Robert Jandy, the borough council's Cabinet Member for Culture, Heritage, Leisure and Town Centre Experience.
He said: “Today’s gathering shows just how much people care about Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and I’d like to assure local residents that I share their passion when it comes to the Borough’s art and heritage collections.

“Our collections are really important to us and they must be maintained in appropriate conditions in an environment that shows them at their best and which is accessible to everybody. This is why we have big plans to build a new Art Pavilion in the Cultural Quarter in the town centre. But, we have to be realistic because creating such a fantastic facility from scratch is going to take some time.

“We cannot reopen the museum and art gallery’s current home at Apsley House because a significant amount of repairs need to be carried out running into hundreds of thousands of pounds and, even then, the building would not be fully accessible. This is not about making an annual saving. The current museum and art gallery is simply no longer fit for purpose, and the constraints of the building mean that it is unlikely ever to be so.

“Throughout the pandemic we have created new and innovative ways of sharing our collections and our Art on Tour exhibitions have allowed us to share our fabulous artwork with local residents. However, we do recognise this is no substitute for enjoying the art and heritage items in a fixed location.

“This is why council officers are currently committed to getting the collections back on display in a fixed location as soon as possible and I hope local art and heritage groups can work with us so we can get Swindon Museum and Art Gallery back open in another venue for residents and visitors to enjoy.”

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