London’s Jewish Museum is to close its building in Camden Town, selling the premises, with a long-term plan to relocate with a new operating model.
Nick Viner, chair of Jewish Museum London (JML), said the decision had been taken after long discussions at board level.
He told Jewish News the combination of meeting financial challenges, the pandemic and cost of living crisis, together with a “reluctant decision not to continue with temporary exhibitions”, had led the museum trustees to think “about our vision for the future”.
In the immediate future, the decision will mean the Albert Street premises close their doors at the end of next month, with the bulk of the museum’s collection of more than 40,000 objects going into storage.
The JML hopes to be out of the building by the end of 2023. Viner said the idea was “probably to set up in a new location with more footfall”, a process he said might take between three and five years. He said there had already been interest from a number of parties in buying the building.
In the meantime, however, the intention is for JML to continue its successful schools programmes, which presently bring thousands of young people – mostly not Jewish – to the physical building and online. An online learning portal used by students and teachers has more than 119,000 users each year.
The plan is also, Viner said, for JML to continue its activities in various temporary venues around London, “perhaps in smaller spaces”.
Discussions are taking place with potential partners about creating “cultural hubs” – perhaps in Camden – where the museum already has strong relations.
It is also intended, with the creation of a lending library of the JML collections objects, to offer loans to different regions – including Brighton, Leeds and Liverpool – from this autumn.
JML has occupied the listed Georgian townhouse that has an extension at the rear since 2010. Financial problems before the pandemic meant that the museum lost its coveted status as an NPO – a National Portfolio Organisation under the aegis of Arts Council England – but it has since reacquired NPO listing.
In November 2022 it was announced that the JML had become one of just eight London museums to acquire this accreditation, meaning it receives £224,000 in annual funding until 2026.
But as Viner explained, even with the “pared-back” version of JML, the Arts Council funding was not enough to make the museum sustainable. Topping that up with philanthropic donations was also not a reliable solution. The JML board now believes that selling Albert Street “will release funds for JML’s interim operational costs, contribute towards the new museum site and seed money”.
“Jewish Museum London is the smallest Jewish museum among
major European cities,” Viner said, “despite being home to the second-largest Jewish community and holding the second-largest collection”. The difference, he said, was that European Jewish museums are all entirely publicly funded.
Besides being home to Britain’s nationally designated collection of Judaica, JML displays and houses collections from the Jewish Military Museum, the United Synagogue and Jewish Historical Society of England.
Viner told Jewish News the decision to close and sell the Albert Street building “had not been taken lightly”. But, he said: “As we approach our centenary, JML is at a crossroads. We have an extraordinary opportunity to re-envisage the museum for the future. As the collection leaves Albert Street for a new temporary home, it will also create opportunities to experiment.”
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