National Maritime Museum Hits Paydirt

Thanks to all of you who sent me the link to the BBC story about Israeli tycoon Sammy Ofer giving £20m to the National Maritime Museum as his way of saying thank you for happy times when he was a jolly tar in the Royal Navy. It seems to be the time of year for bilionaires to bestow gifts on the arts – only yesterday the Bodleian Library received a £5m donation – interesting to us as it was founded on our own Duke Humphrey’s 15th Century book collection. Maybe we’ll see some more big cash gifts over the next few days as wealthy people see the end of the tax year looming.

And it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The NMM are planning to use the cash to build a new wing. So – a good thing for the museum and a good thing for us, I guess. I’m hoping they have a good plan to ensure we don’t lose too much green space around the museum and that it will be a plus for the museum – more temporary exhibition space and more archive areas. A tiny part of me slightly agrees with Shaun, who says

In the larger picture, where is this new wing going to go? I don’t want anymore buildings around the NMM, but then I’m picky. Although as a bit of a naval historian wannabe the prospect of more NMM really excites me, I’m worried for the area and how it will turn out.

On the telly at lunchtime, they said it would be in the South West corner – and I can’t currently picture what’s there already – with a bit of luck that will be because it’s boring outbuildings. In the end this can only be a good thing.

You know, though – something about this makes me a little sad for the smaller, less glamorous museums and collections. Wealthy benefactors are a fine thing – and I am absolutely delighted that Sammy Ofer’s doing this for us. But whilst no museum is ever going to admit that it’s got enough cash, the NMM is not exactly at death’s door; and already has an impressive list of donors – not least Peter Harrison, who paid for the the planetarium. I visit little places all the time that are starving for lack of funds – and visitors – less money means shorter opening hours which means fewer visitors. When I am a billionaire, and looking for ways to reduce my tax burden, I will be looking to give a leg up to those quirky individual places that really need the help.

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