The UCL Panopticon, and Protests: A lack of arts funding in the UK?

University College London [UCL] has recently dropped what The Art Newspaper has called “one of the UK’s most ambitious university museum projects” due to a lack of funding.

UCL’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology houses 80,000 pieces of “pottery, sculpture, jewellery and mummy cases.” The University’s special collections have a number of important objects of cultural heritage, including an archive of George Orwell’s letters, and even Agatha Christie’s picnic basket. The Museum’s current building is too small to contain all of these treasures. In 2009, the Petrie Museum held an interesting exhibition titled, “Disposal? Rethinking What to Keep in UCL Collections.” This blog reported on the exhibit together with the University’s Cultural Property Policy, which lays the groundwork for disposal of items from the collections.

Rather than dispose of these objects, why not move them to a bigger space? UCL had been in the process of moving its collections to a new building, “the Panopticon”, and establishing what would be an institute for Cultural Heritage.

Dixon Jones, an architectural practice, won a competition in 2001 to design the Panopticon, and it had been scheduled for completion last year. Since 2001, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wellcome Trust, and a private foundation have awarded significant amounts of money to the collections. However, the amount of funding secured was not enough for the Panopticon, and the project has been dropped.

“The Panopticon was culled by the credit crunch,” said Sally MacDonald, the director of museums and collections, UCL.

What will happen to cultural heritage in these times of economic woe? Some of these issues were considered in a blog post in January 2011. Sources of both private and public funding are drying up. The project’s cut does come at a time of a funding cuts controversy in the UK. Government cuts to public spending have led to a massive protest today in London. As demonstrated by a report in the the guardian, many of these cuts will have a serious impact on arts and culture.


For more information about the UCL Panopticon, read the article at The Art Newspaper

For more information about the anti-cuts protest, read the article at the guardian

Photo credit: Jose Mirza

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