* Update December 2020: It shall not be moved, the museum decides
AS IT TRIES TO shrug off its Geffrye skin, the Museum of the Home is showing signs of desperation in its attempt to appeal to everyone. An on-site protest last night met with a light show obscuring the prominently situated and recently controversial Robert Geffrye statue with a Black Lives Matter display.
When BLM protests were high on the news agenda, and in the wake of the tearing-down of a slavery-connected statue in Bristol, Somerset, this year, the museum said it would not take down the statue. Against the demands of Hackney council, contributors to a public consultation and protesters, it would “reinterpret and contextualise” the statue in situ.
Since the Conservative government’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the museum’s director, Sonia Solicari, in June this year 2020 that the statue should stay in place, she has uhmmed and aahed. The museum is the recipient of £11 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Loving Dalston sought clarity from the museum. It would not directly comment when asked whether Solicari had told Dowden that museums had the right to make their own decisions regardless of grants. Instead, the museum referred Loving Dalston to a Culture Ministry select committee meeting on 6 October 2020, examining how the differing interests of property owners, local authorities, government and communities could be reconciled.
The online meeting, which you can see here, offers little encouragement to anyone hoping that Solicari, though she seemed to want to remove the statue and “recontextualise” [this is how she speaks] it, might put her job on the line by standing up to the Culture Secretary. It is worth noting that the institution she heads is non-departmental, a public body separate from government.
She said, however, that the Government and Historic England favoured a “retain-and-explain policy”. But she was “not clear” whether that meant the tribute to the slavery-investing philanthropist could not be moved.
She just may have found a way to a compromise. Hackney people will hope she can use that wiggle room to balance the demands of the forces opposing her from two sides because the museum had been on course to make its mark in our museum-city.
Having secured £15 million of extra funding five years ago, most it from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum was embarking on its long-delayed makeover, which will include a café in the derelict pub on the southeast corner of the museum site and a new entrance opposite Hoxton station.
The Geffrye, as it was in 2015, had to scrap a previous scheme by architect David Chipperfield, which would have arrogantly demolished the Victorian-era pub and not utilise the museum’s closeness to the Transport for London Overground station. Camden architect Wright and Wright came up with the viable scheme.
David Altheer 301020
* Backstory: Geffrye offers Hackney a Plan B and wins £500k; Shame and hopelessness of homelessness; Saved: Hackney’s Geffrye pub; Shakespeare live in the Geffrye garden; Hackney hesitates to take in Syrians; The lost honour of Walter Tull, heroic soldier and black Spurs star
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