top of page

'Creative Cities' this May considers future UK government investment

CGI of Temple Works, Leeds, courtesy of The British Library

Future Cities Forum will be considering the UK government's investment promises into cultural development during its 'Creative Cities' forum to be held at the British Film Institute this May.

The Chancellor during his budget confirmed £100 million for a programme of culture projects across the UK, recognising the vital role that culture and pride in place have to play in levelling up. The projects will include:

  • revamping the National Railway Museum in York 

  • transforming parts of the Royal Albert Docks in Liverpool into a national museum

  • supporting the development of the country’s first National Poetry Centre in Leeds 

  • supporting the redevelopment of the Temple Works building in Leeds so that this historic site can serve as an eventual home for British Library North

  • funding for Venue Cymru in Llandudno

  • supporting the V&A Dundee for the remodelling and extension of their Scottish Design Galleries

The UK government is also supporting local cultural projects with £5 million in areas that have been previously prioritised for levelling up investment but have not benefitted from government investment through one of the Levelling Up Funds: Coventry, Erewash, High Peak, Maldon, Mendip (now Somerset), Newport, North Northamptonshire, Redditch, and Worcester.   

It has also announced a further £20 million to deliver two capital regeneration projects that will revitalise town centres in Hucknall, Ashfield and Bingley, Bradford. In addition, it is providing £6 million for a pilot, delivered with the King’s Foundation, to explore how community centred regeneration projects, anchored around heritage assets and sustainability considerations, can complement the government’s wider place-based initiatives for levelling up.  


To ensure that every city in Scotland benefits from levelling up, it will be investing £10 million in Perth and Dunfermline to deliver bespoke culture and regeneration projects. Building on the cultural and investment legacy of the Commonwealth Games across the West Midlands, the Chancellor announced a fund of £10 million for culture and £5 million for investment for the West Midlands Combined Authority, subject to business case approvals.

In further news, visitor numbers at the world’s largest museums of art have largely returned to their pre-pandemic levels, an exclusive survey by The Art Newspaper has found.

It states that:

'The Covid-19 pandemic caused museum visitor numbers to plummet across the world as institutions shut their doors and people were forced to stay inside. The number of people visiting the most-visited 100 museums fell from 230 million in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year, to just 54m in 2020. Since then we have seen a slow recovery, with 71m visitors in 2021 and 141m in 2022.

'Although the total number of visitors to the top 100 museums was 176 million in 2023, our survey shows that many of the world’s largest museums are now close to their 2019 visitor numbers. The Musée du Louvre is once again the most-visited museum in our survey with 8.9 million visitors, just 8% below its 2019 figure. The British Museum in London had 5.5 million visitors (7% down on 2019), the Prado in Madrid 3.3 million (5% down) and the Vatican Museums in Rome 6.8 million (2% down).

'The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam attracted 2.7 million visitors, the same as in 2019, 654,000 of whom saw its blockbuster exhibition of Johannes Vermeer.

'Other major world museums received more visitors in 2023 than they did pre-pandemic. The Musée d’Orsay in Paris was up 6% on 2019, to 3.9 million, and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence was up 15%, to 2.7 million. Both were record figures for the museums.

'Recently opened museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, M+ in Hong Kong and the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo had their best ever years. The latter is now the most popular art museum in Scandinavia. London’s National Portrait Gallery and Young V&A both reopened to record visitor numbers.

'However, some museums are still struggling to attract the same number of visitors as before the pandemic. London’s National Gallery had the biggest absolute fall in visitor numbers of any museum in our survey – it received 3.1 million visitors in 2023, a fall of 2.9 million from 2019 (down 48%). However, the museum’s Sainsbury Wing was closed throughout 2023, reducing gallery space and the number of entrances. It is due to reopen in 2025.

'Figures for Tate Britain and Tate Liverpool were also much lower than in 2019 (both down 40%, with 1.1 million and 399,000 respectively in 2023). However, Tate Liverpool was shut from October, and many galleries at Tate Britain were shut for part of the year for a major rehang. A Tate spokesperson says "Tate Britain was at 87% of its pre-Covid average and Tate Liverpool was at 73% for the periods of 2023 when they were each fully open."

'Tate Modern’s recovery was more tepid (4.7 million visits, down 22% from 2019), as was the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (3.1 million, down 21%).'

Chinese state museums usually release their figures later in the year, so were not included in the report. The Art Newspaper’s annual survey is the most comprehensive worldwide study of museum visitor numbers. Research was conducted via email and phone during February 2024 and uses figures reported by the institutions themselves for the preceding calendar year.

The full report, including the list of the top 150 most-visited art museums in the world, will be published in the April issue of The Art Newspaper.

Above: An eighteenth century family, 2022 by Jo Labinjo. © Joy Labinjo. Photograph © The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.

Meanwhile, five painting galleries at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge have reopened after an ambitious redisplay that aims to tell the “larger, more complex and inclusive story of art”.

The new thematic displays place contemporary works and lesser known rediscoveries from the museum’s collections alongside its more iconic paintings.

Featuring more than 190 artworks spanning the 1600s to the present day, the galleries are aim to present traditional art groupings, such as the museum’s Pre-Raphaelite and impressionist holdings, through a new lens that explores how art genres such as portraits, still lives, nudes, interiors and landscapes have “conformed and challenged prevailing cultural and societal expectations at different times”.

A broader and more diverse range of artists is on show, with a particular focus on women, and artists of colour; paintings by Gainsborough, Cézanne, van Dyck and Stanley Spencer now sit alongside works by “previously under-appreciated talents”, including women artists such as Mary Moser, Ethel Walker and Winifred Nicholson.

Each gallery is focused around a theme that brings the historic, modern and contemporary together. The opening two galleries examine how the role of women in society changed from the 18th century, as seen through the eyes of mainly male artists, from eroticised subjects or figures of virtue to a shift in the 1900s towards representing individual women’s inner lives. 

The third gallery looks at how portraiture has historically been used as a tool to “both reinforce and subvert ideas of power”.

Well-known pictures such as Heneage Lloyd and his Sister, Lucy (1750) by Thomas Gainsborough, underline the importance of land ownership and inheritance in the eighteenth century, and are shown next to new acquisitions such as Henry Louis Gates Jr (2020) by Kerry James Marshall, in order to critically examine the “visual language of portraiture and the absence or marginalisation of Black figures”.

The fourth exhibition space examines the movement of people, featuring works by artists who immigrated to the UK, including Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Lucie Rie, Frank Auerbach, and Aubrey Williams, and depictions of Travelling and Roma communities represented in works by JMW Turner and Augustus John.


The galleries conclude with a display dedicated to landscape and the natural world. Romantic, Impressionist and Post-impressionist Landscapes, including Claude Monet’s Springtime (1886) and John Constable’s Hampstead Heath (1820), are shown alongside contemporary works by Veronica Ryan and David Hockney to “reveal how artists have interpreted the often complex quality of our relationship with our environments”.

The five galleries, in the Fitzwilliam’s original mid-19th century Founder’s Building, have been refurbished with improved lighting, new silk wall-coverings and new glass in the ceiling domes.

"The Fitzwilliam is playing an important role in exploring a larger, more complex and inclusive story of art that helps us think about who we are today,” said Luke Syson, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

“This redisplay juxtaposes historic and contemporary works to offer a narrative that links past and present. We can do this so well because of the depth and range of our magnificent collection and because of some exceptional new acquisitions. Many of our most famous works of art now take their place alongside more unfamiliar pieces in a rich array that deliberately leaves space for a range of responses and asks us all to think anew.’

Rebecca Birrell, curator, writer and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow said: “Incorporating several exciting new acquisitions, our thematic rehang will transgress the boundaries of time and place that traditionally organised these five galleries. Walking through the galleries visitors will now be able to encounter many surprising moments of correspondence and dialogue between works of art.”

The rehang was supported by the Albert Reckitt Charitable Trust and the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust. 

CGI of Blackpool Museum project, courtesy of Blackpool Council

Blackpool’s first ever permanent museum has now opened to the public. Located in a former nightclub on the town’s famous Golden Mile seafront strip, Showtown will present six galleries, designed by Casson Mann, exploring the town’s history of entertainment and showbiz.

Billed as the “museum of fun and entertainment”, the venue will take visitors through stories of circus, magic, dance, seaside life and the Blackpool illuminations, all told through displays featuring more than 800 objects.

The Seaside Gallery is the first stop in the museum, where visitors can watch a 17-metre seaside scene come to life and explore Blackpool’s early days as the world’s first mass seaside resort.   

The Magic Gallery tells stories of conjurors, magicians and tricksters, while Roll Up, Roll Up will explore Blackpool’s long connection with the circus industry. The It’s Showtime! gallery will showcase end-of-pier variety shows and light entertainment, while the Leading Lights gallery allows visitors to view vintage illuminations and create their own.

The last permanent gallery, Everybody Dance Now, explores Blackpool's history of dance, particularly ballroom dancing, and features costumes worn by Strictly Come Dancing stars including former winner Stacey Dooley and professional dancer Joanne Clifton.

The final gallery will present special exhibitions, the first of which will explore the making of the museum itself.

Other exhibits in the museum include a Mr Punch puppet from 1850, suits worn by comedian Peter Kay and the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, and comedian Bobby Ball's red braces.

Showtown features 28 objects on loan from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, including Tommy Cooper's trademark fez and Sooty and Sweep puppets from the long-running children's show.

Elizabeth Moss, chief executive of Showtown, said: “The lights are on, the curtain is up and we can’t wait to welcome people to Showtown. The opening of the museum is a significant moment for us and for Blackpool.

“Fun and amusement sit at the very heart of our innovative and world class museum which celebrates this incredible town’s entertainment history and the people who have put it on the map.

“We have reimagined how a museum should be, through our innovative displays of Blackpool’s own rich collection shown alongside key loans from international institutions and the performers themselves.”

Lynn Williams, leader of Blackpool Council, said she was "delighted and excited in equal measure" about the opening.

“Our town holds a unique place in the nation’s heart, and I know the museum will be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors alike," said Williams. "Making the museum a reality is down to the hard work of so many people, so a very big thank you to everyone involved."

Showtown forms part of the council's regeneration programme, which will see investment in infrastructure, accommodation and other improvements. Entry to the museum is free for local residents and Blackpool schools.

Given the town’s focus on entertainment, heritage has previously had a low profile in Blackpool; the council’s heritage team, Heritage Blackpool, was only established in 2007 to develop this offer, culminating in the creation of Showtown.

A new organisation, Blackpool Heritage & Museum Trust, was established last year to operate Showtown and Heritage Blackpool on behalf of Blackpool Council.

The £13m museum received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Blackpool Council, the Coastal Communities Fund, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Northern Powerhouse Fund, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and the Pilgrim Trust.


Recent Posts
bottom of page