Hoard remains to key to success of Cultural Quarter despite funding setback

It costs eight dollars for adults and four dollars for children but I’m told by a colleague that it’s well worth the admission price.
The National Geographic Museum in downtown Washington is a state-of-the-art, interactive tourist attraction.
And right now the top draw at this top drawer venue is our very own Staffordshire Hoard and the powers-that-be there are making the most of its one and only U.S. appearance.
Want to build your own medieval helmet? No problem.
Want to learn about the epic Beowulf saga poem, Anglo-Saxon culinary expressions or wheat-weaving and corn dollies? It’s all there. Fancy going exploring with your family? Just grab a field guide and backpack to help you get the most out of the Hoard exhibition by ‘looking, moving, touching and doing’.
This is history how it should be taught. Dark Age history enlightened by modern technology and made accessible to all.
Contrast this then with the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery’s first attempts to showcase the Hoard.
Granted, museum staff will admit that the initial exhibition was thrown together in miraculous fashion in a space which wasn’t really suitable.
But while it may not have put off the tens of thousands of visitors who flocked to view samples of this breathtaking discovery, what our little display has done is highlight the Hanley venue’s shortcomings.
The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery is a building which hasn’t really moved on in two decades.
Yes, it has a world-renowned collection of ceramics and a dedicated friends group but I’m afraid that isn’t enough to make it a decent tourist venue.
The fact is if you don’t like pots then I’m afraid you’re going to be rather disappointed.
Take our Spitfire exhibit, for example. The creator of the fighter plane that turned the tide of the Battle of Britain was born down the road in Butt Lane but our tribute to his work of genius is something of an embarrassment, if we’re honest.
The Spitfire is tucked away in a darkened room and overlooked by a mannequin which wouldn’t seem out of place in an infant school art department.
Aside from this, the rest of the museum is a hotch-potch of displays – sort of like Bargain Hunt crossed with a taxidermy conference.
All this changed, of course, when we acquired a share of the Staffordshire Hoard. Or rather, it should have done.
Museum staff knew only too well that the Hoard presented a wonderful opportunity to transform the city centre venue from a rather niche tourist attraction into a major player.
However, news that a major funding bid for a permanent Hoard exhibition in Stoke-on-Trent has been turned down by the Arts Council is a major blow – and not just for the 13 museum employees whose jobs have been put at risk.
It is worth saying that the Birmingham Museums Trust bid was successful. Why am I not surprised?
We have brilliant and passionate staff at the Potteries Museum who did us proud at short notice with regard to the Hoard.
People like collections officer Deb Klemperer with whom I shared a podium at the special Sentinel sneak-peek viewing of the Hoard the night before the exhibition opened.
They deserve our support as they pick themselves up after this latest disappointment and go back to the drawing board.
As Hanley prepares itself, via the ludicrously-named City Sentral, for the kind of regeneration not seen since the advent of the Potteries Shopping Centre, it is vital that the Cultural Quarter steps up to the mark.
If we finally get a bus station not reminiscent of Eastern European town during the Cold War along with a new, multi-million pound shopping centre, then we must ensure our all-round offer to shoppers and visitors is of the highest standard.
We have a first class theatre and a museum that now has all the gear but no idea (or should I say no resources) of how to display its riches properly.
We must bid, bid and bid again for funding to display the Hoard in all its glory and position Stoke-on-Trent as the home of the Staffordshire Hoard.
Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development, has assured us that in spite of the failed hoard bid its “business as usual” at our museums.
That’s the problem though Mark, isn’t it? Business as usual means a few score visitors on a week day.
Remember the queues snaking around the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery when the Hoard first arrived?
Remember the excitement when we learned the bid to acquire this national treasure had been successful?
We must not lose the impetus now.
If marketed properly the Staffordshire Hoard could be priceless asset to the city rather than simply another hidden gem at a venue that simply hasn’t moved with the times.
I can feel a campaign coming on…

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