After unsuccessful negotiations with Lincolnshire County Council over the future of the Usher Gallery, the City of Lincoln Council decided to move all the art and artefacts to Nottingham for safe storage and preservation.
The county council leases the building from the city council, who received it as a gift from the famous jeweller and art collector James Usher.
Their plan was to turn the Usher into a financially viable wedding and ceremonies venue, with most exhibitions taking place in the Collection Museum next door, also run by the county council.
But building owners city council vehemently opposed the move, so the county council forced their hand and in September 2019 gave notice that it wants to return all the collections stored in the Usher — unless the city council was prepared to pay for its storage.
Now, the City of Lincoln Council said it found a “better value deal” to store the treasures from the Usher in Nottingham.
The arrangement with Nottingham City Council is for two years and involves storing and preserving the collections in a new purpose-built facility.
The county council will have access to the art and artefacts, so they can rotate displays regularly to create rotating exhibitions at the Usher.
Meanwhile, the city council said it will seek to find a way to keep the Usher building open and intact as a gallery space.
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of City of Lincoln Council, said: “Lincolnshire County Council has looked after our art and artefacts without charge since 1974. Their decision to return all our material — which amounts to almost 30,000 individual pieces — after so long shows a contempt for the city’s rich heritage.
“Unsurprisingly, the city council has no specialist facility of its own in which to store the material and so has been forced to identify another provider.
“Nottingham City Council staff come with a national profile and reputation for high quality heritage services and they will now take a lead on behalf of the city council in overseeing the complex process which will ultimately see the transfer of all art and artefacts to them in October 2021.
“The opportunities this new partnership presents are significant and could well lead to many of our pieces forming travelling exhibitions which could see the Lincoln’s heritage advertised across the country.
“We very much look forward to exploring these exciting developments with Nottingham City Council over the period to October 2023.
“It is now even more crucial that the county council determines the future of the Usher Gallery to secure our heritage for the long term. I very much encourage the county council to explore a Trust model as a way of accessing external funding and expertise.
“Partners such as the University and Historic Lincoln Trust are very keen to support that process. Experience of the industry would indicate that given goodwill and a desire to co-operate, such a solution is entirely realistic.”
Ron Inglis, Chief Operations Officer (Museums) at Nottingham City Council said: “Nottingham City Council Museums & Galleries has an extensive range of historical collections, developed from the 19th century, which is housed within secure, environmentally stable premises, with storage facilities of very high calibre.
“Through this collaboration, we will not only ensure that their artefacts remain safeguarded and protected, we would also aim to work with City of Lincoln Council to develop programmes jointly, to facilitate research and greater understanding of this significant collection.”
County council argues position
Cllr Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, commented: “This shows utter contempt for Lincolnshire residents and the wishes of James Usher, whilst at the same time brings unnecessary costs to Lincoln taxpayers at a time when the City Council is claiming financial difficulties.
“Even if they have arranged a favourable rate for storage with Nottingham City Council – what will be the cost of moving and installing almost 30,000 artefacts?
“Just to set the record straight, whilst there have been early conversations — we have never had negotiations about the storage of Lincolnshire artefacts, so this a complete surprise to us. We even spoke to them this morning – and nothing was mentioned!
“As you can see in my letter, we had offered to look after the Usher collection and Gallery free of charge and all we were asking for is some flexibility on the use of part of the Usher building which is currently underused in order to bring much needed modernisation to the gallery.
“To send Lincolnshire’s artworks and artefacts out of the county is completely outrageous and to me it seems that City of Lincoln’s leadership are more interested in working with Labour run Nottingham City Council, which also has severe financial problems, rather than looking after the residents which it purports to represent.
“I’m also hugely offended by the dismissive reference to our heritage professionals who have been take great care of the artefacts since 1974.
“It is extremely disappointing that the City of Lincoln Council would rather invest in a local authority in another county by giving it all of our Lincolnshire treasures to display and enjoy, whilst denying our residents the opportunity and demonstrating a complete lack of support for culture and heritage in its own county. “