Culture’s diminishing returns and a visit to Cliffe Castle, Keighley

We can argue about what “culture” means. One definition is the stuff in museums and art galleries. Capital cities tend to have more of that.

But does having lots of museums amount to anything more than having lots of museums?

Here is a scientific graph (not to scale).

culture graph

In “culture” there are diminishing returns. The jump between a hole in the ground and Keighley (note to non-Yorkshire people: it’s [generally] pronounced Keithley)  is bigger than that between Keighley and Manchester, and that jump is bigger than between Manchester and London.

People still like going to pubs and watching Bake-Off, no matter how many “world class museums” and theatre companies are nearby. A little goes a long way.

Imagined reader interjection!

But if there’s more out there then there’s more chance of finding something you love!

Maybe.

But there’s also the “Paradox of Choice” concept: more may make people less happy and fulfilled due to the stress of choosing and the nagging sense that you are making the wrong choice.

Having fewer options may allow you to develop more of a personal relationship with what you do have. If you live in Jersey you may not be able to see a Picasso any time you like, but at least you’re able to get really into anti-Nazi fortifications.

I’m going to ignore this as it would mean drawing another graph (this time shaped like an upside down ‘u’ [some say, ’n’]).

Where were we?

Oh yeah. These diminishing returns also exist within cultural institutions.

Londoners often say their favourite museum is the Imperial War Museum, or the Foundling Museum, or the Horniman (note to non-Londoners: that’s a real place). The behemoths like the British Museum or Tate don’t come up so much. They’re nice if you can go frequently and find a favourite room, otherwise they’re a bit overwhelming. It’s hard to get much out of an individual Monet if there’s another one right beside it. Compare to Leeds Art Gallery where you can pop in, see a few Stanley Spencers and a couple of Francis Bacon’s, and be having a coffee, sated with culture, half an hour later.

By the way:

I really want to visit the British in India museum in Pendle. Niche.

So:

Pete, an Australian friend of mine, spent a week in Keighley as a young man. He hated it. He was with a friend, visiting that guy’s family and they pretty much stayed in a pub the whole time.

He should have gone to Cliffe Castle (neither a castle, nor on a cliff[e]).

As usual the website undersells it.

With the reopening of the museum there are a host of new and exciting displays and activities for you, including re-displayed period reception rooms featuring sparkling, restored chandeliers and new historic light fittings, and a new Dining with the Butterfields display which will give you a glimpse into how the family would have wined and dined their important guests.

Yawn!

It should say:

Cliffe Castle is a glorious jumble, vaguely about Keighley.

Pete, come back. Let me show you around. Impossible to imagine that there’s not something here for you.

A recreated dinosaur that once roamed the Bradford area?

croc dino

No? How about a painting of a man with his chap unapologetically on display?

slightly pervy

OK then. Some recovered William Morris stained glass?

stained glass

Well, a two-headed lamb?

Two headed lamb

You’ll definitely like “Quirky Keighley” facts.

quirky keighley

A selection:

  • The world’s first Esperanto society was established by journalist Joseph Rhodes in Keighley in 1902.
  • Keighley weightlifter Fred Pickles shot to fame in 1934 when he became the youngest British person to jerk above double bodyweight.
  • Rife with rickets, 19th century Keighley folk became known as Crooked-legged uns or K-legged uns
  • Galactic travelling hairy carpet Chewbacca (of Star Wars fame) lived in Keighley as actor Peter Mayhew. He now lives in Texas with his American wife Angelique.

I’m not sure if you’re allowed to take pictures. Certainly there’s no encouragement to get the word out.

Here’s a conspiracy theory (just a theory!): Bradford council don’t actually want people to come.

All of their museums and galleries are free. The more visitors they get, the more money it costs them in upkeep, and there’s no money to go round.

Also, it’s one of their few assets. If visitor numbers are low then talk of selling those assets begins to make more sense.

I’m not saying this is the case, but when incentives are lined up in this way you have to rely on people’s nobility, which is rarely a sensible long term strategy.

(There’s an alternative: marketing these resources for weddings, filming etc, increasing visitor numbers and get knock-on tourist money. It’s not pretty, but again: there’s no money.)

Implied takeaways: small museums > big museums; move museums out of big cities into smaller towns.

UPDATE: Bradford museums say they do, in fact, want visitors.

Bradford museums tweet


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