Let’s blow our own trumpet to clinch crucial arts prize

The Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston

The Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston

A few weeks ago, I was banging on about how we in North Staffordshire are so poor at trumpeting our proud past.

Now, as arguably the world’s foremost pottery brand battles for survival under the stewardship of its new American owners, we have been presented with an opportunity to help preserve a priceless piece of Potteries heritage.

The Wedgwood Museum, below, has been shortlisted for the £100,000 Art Fund Prize 2009 – the largest single arts award in the UK.

That in itself is a remarkable achievement for the Barlaston venue.

However, there are no points (or should I say pounds) for second place and it faces stiff opposition from three other tourist attractions – the preposterously-named Centre of New Enlightenment at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, the Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham and Ruthin Crafts Centre in Denbighshire.

I have never visited these other attractions and so I can honestly say I have nothing against any of them. I just don’t want them to win.

You see, as far as I’m concerned, the country has plenty of interactive learning experiences ‘which inspire children to achieve success in their lives’.

We’ve got one ourselves – it’s called Ceramica – and every time I drive past it is either closed or there isn’t a visitor in sight.

And anyway, Kelvingrove has already benefited from a £5 million donation from the philanthropic Hunter Group, so it’s hardly on its uppers now, is it?

Meanwhile, supporting contemporary crafts is all well and good, but I dare say the legacy of 250 years of creativity, craftsmanship and employment rather trumps whatever the unique selling point of the Welsh entry is.

Ok. You might have gathered that I’ve got a soft spot for the Wedgwood Museum.

That’s partly because it is run by a charitable trust which is financially independent of the Wedgwood brand and has been charged with the task of conserving one of the most precious archives in the world.

I also like the fact that the Wedgwood Museum does what it says on the tin.

It may be housed in a breathtaking modern building but inside it’s a proper museum that looks like, well … a proper museum. You know, lots of wood panelling and exhibits that are unique, priceless and a lot older than me.

Thus I would dearly love our entry to scoop the cash – particularly as Bethesda Chapel or ‘Cathedral of the Potteries’ was robbed of the first prize in BBC TV’s Restoration programme. I reckon we’re due a break.

Let’s face it, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is spent every year across the UK on white elephant tourist attractions and wasted by misguided local authorities on nonsensical arts projects. Ahem.

Just think back to how cash was literally thrown at obscure schemes around the time of the Millennium celebrations.

Here, the six Art Fund Prize judges have the chance to lend a helping hand to a truly stunning attraction which we all take for granted because it’s on our doorstep.

This isn’t some arty, minority interest venue. It’s a museum dedicated to the tens of thousands of people who made objects of great beauty from the soil of North Staffordshire.

It is a living, breathing monument to their lives’ work.

And as well as telling the fascinating lives of the Wedgwood family members and displaying the skills, artistry and ingenuity of the Wedgwood workforce, the museum boasts a huge range of manuscripts, documentation, correspondence, factory equipment, and original models.

Oh, and one of the most important ceramic collections in the world.

For the first time, the public can vote for who they think should win the £100,000 Art Fund Prize.

The winner of the poll will count as one of seven votes at the final judges’ meeting.

I’ll do my bit if you do yours. Let’s give old Josiah something to smile about.

After all, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.


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