Two Lincoln charitable trusts have been given a deadline of October 31 to make the case to run the city’s Usher Gallery.
Members from the Usher Gallery Trust and Historic Lincoln Trust have come together to hold discussions with Lincolnshire County Council over running the gallery as a whole.
The authority gave notice on its collections management at the Usher at an executive meeting today and confirmed it was speaking with a third party operator for the gallery.
Councillor Nick Worth, executive councillor for culture at the authority, said discussions were ongoing with the trusts over a “sustainable plan” for the site.
As previously reported, the authority plans to move exhibitions to The Collection while finding other uses for the gallery.
It’s part of a wider “commercial” shakeup of heritage services in the county which the council said would save £750,000 a year.
As part of the plans, the Usher Gallery will look to be handed over to third party operators if possible.
Councillor Worth said the authority has set a deadline for the trusts to come back with a business plan, but added that the council would “work closely with them” to help.
“They’ve been set a deadline of October 31 to come back with an initial business plan and we will be working quite closely with them between now and then to get to a sustainable plan that will have to be in place by the end of the year,” he said.
“It’s a mix of people from the Usher Gallery Trust and the Historic Lincoln Trust, they will have to decide whether one or the other runs it or whether they form a new organisation.
“They have got quite a lot of experience and we are not just going let them come back and leave them to it, we will try and work with them to get a sustainable solution.”
Councillor Worth added there were still options available to move registration services to the Usher should the discussions fall through.
“In the unlikely event of that happening, we have left in the recommendations the options that are there to keep a small part of the Usher Gallery as a gallery but retain the option to either put the registration coroners service in there as a plan B,” he said.
City of Lincoln Council leader, Councillor Ric Metcalfe, said the county council was operating at a time of “scarce resources” and urged them to take conversations with the third party “seriously”.
“Putting the county’s heritage services in a commercial setting in the hope that it will break even is both unrealistic and undesirable. It will always need a subsidy in order to remain accessible to all,” he said.
“It is very disappointing that the county council is seeking to stop running the Usher directly. However, we are pleased to see they are willing to work with a third party and we urge them to take those conversations seriously.
“We believe the recommendation to hand back to us the collection that they have looked after for 45 years is utterly outrageous.
“This suggestion has never been put to the public for consultation and we have never been given any opportunity to explain the impact this would have on the city council, residents and heritage itself.”
He added that the decision could have “serious repercussions” when the county council looks for external funding.
Meanwhile, Fiona Hodges, who started the Save Lincoln’s Usher Gallery campaign, said she hoped there was still a future for the gallery.
“I’m still encouraged that things are moving forward that will save the Usher Gallery as a fully fledged art gallery for the people of Lincolnshire and our visitors” she said.
She added that clarifications were still needed over collections management.
The idea for the heritage services is that bigger exhibitions, such as dinosaur exhibitions and the recent Moon Museum, will pay for some of the smaller attractions in the region.
Other changes in the county include terminating the lease on Gainsborough Old Hall to hand back to English Heritage and retaining Museum of Lincolnshire Life and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitors Centre.
The plans for heritage services include:
- Usher Gallery – The council has proposed using the gallery as a events venue and coroners court and options such as handing over the service to a third party.
- The Collection – Carry out work to the building to create “flexible space” in order to display a range of art and archaeology exhibitions.
- Gainsborough Old Hall – Terminate the lease on the hall which ends in October 2020. The county council will stop managing and operating the site and hand it over to English Heritage.
- Discover Stamford, Ellis Windmill, Burgh le Marsh Windmill and Alford Windmill – The county council will look to hand responsibility of these sites to another organisation.
- Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitors Centre and Heckington Windmill – All will be retained by the county council.
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