The Harris Museum and Art Gallery is an iconic part of Preston but how is it shaping up for the 21st century?Advertisement
A major consultation has been launched by Preston City Council and we asked the man in charge of the museum, Jon Finch, to answer readers questions.
In a live Q&A on Facebook he took your questions direct about the future of the building and what you see as the important issues.
Q: What else can it be other than what it is? We should leave it as it is…
– John, Denise and Linda
Jon Finch: You are right, the Harris has some real strengths. The library is a real centre for the local community, the museum delivers art exhibitions of an international quality, and we want to hear about what you love about the Harris as it is now. However some of the facilities need improvement, and the expectations of younger people for instance means that we need to shape the Harris to meet their needs as well.
Q: What role will the Friends of the Harris group play?
JF: Sue, the Friends have played a vital role in supporting the museum and art gallery in recent years, providing funds for exhibitions, purchases and conservation for instance. I am working closely with the Friends and want them to play an important role in shaping the vision and contributing to the redevelopment. In fact I have a couple of meetings coming up with the Friends where I am going to discuss the emerging vision further with them.
Q: What can be done to improve the IT facilities?
JF: Yes we need to continue to improve the IT facilities here at the Harris. A 21st century library and museum should have cutting edge technology and high quality wireless, users expect it. I am working with both Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council, as well as the university, to ensure improvements both in the short term and as part of the wider Re-Imagining.
Q: As the Harris is a public sector organisation, does Jon think it is appropriate for the Twitter account to advertise a private organisation?
– Craig Spey
JF: For the Harris to be successful we need a vibrant and animated Preston beyond the Harris and across the city centre. It is good to see other organisations, private, public and voluntary, contributing to a high quality arts scene in Preston, and therefore we are happy to highlight those organisations, where appropriate, in our social media work.
Q: I gather that what this is about is the Harris losing its council funding? So where will the money come from to keep it going, & is it under threat of closure?
– Margaret McLaughlin
JF: No the Harris is not under threat of closure, it is seen as very important across Preston, Lancashire and beyond. However both Lancashire County and Preston City Councils are facing significant financial pressures so we need to consider a range of ways where the Harris might become more enterprising and generate more income. This may involve increased retail, conference facilities, weddings. I am talking to the teams at the moment about how we best achieve this.
Q: What is the timescale for the project?
– Richard Lowthian
JF: The consultation we have undertaken has demonstrated the scale of the ambition for the Harris. It will take a little time to meet that ambition and get the necessary funders on board. For instance you have to go through two distinct stages to secure money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Therefore it may well take 2-3 years to get the funding in place and begin to undertake major changes. However we are keen to continue to improve the Harris in the short term, and will look to make improvements in 2016.
Q: The fashion department and exhibition seems redundant, will it be scrapped? Expensive equipment and gets only a few visitors
JF: All of the displays in the museum and art gallery have their fans and critics. The fashion and costume displays are popular with young people and students from UCLan for example. However some displays need refreshing and improving in the short term, and we will be looking into that. In the longer term we want to hear your views about the sort of exhibition and displays you want in the Re-Imagined Harris, and if you would prefer something else to the costume please let us know.
You can read the Q&A on the Blog Preston Facebook page
The consultation on the future of the Harris is available to fill in via the city council website.
What do you make of Jon’s answers? What’s your view about the building? Let us know in the comments below