Over 2000 years ago on a flat expanse of land beneath a rise of hills that stretched out westwards from the Pennine chain there existed a curious aberration in the landscape: a sharp bluff that looked oddly unique and distinctive when viewed from a distance.
The people that inhabited that area thought it special enough to use it as a place of sanctuary and sanctity. Within that peculiar rise of land they buried their loved ones in clay urns. The urns were simple things but given the shape of a womb and patterned with the marks of the maker’s hand.
One of those urns (found in 1901 outside the church) now stands at the centre of an exhibition on Spirit of a Place in the basement of Bury Art Museum (BAM) in Greater Manchester, England. It is, quite possibly, the 'B of the Bang of Bury', and the first artefact that started two millennia of art and culture within this special place on this bluff, this burgh, this Bury.
I write this post as news has been released that BAM, and its remarkable collection of treasures, is to be part of an ‘options appraisal’ taken from a 'reduce costs/ drive income' perspective. As is usually the case these days, the outcomes aren't clearly defined. It tells us that there will be decisions made in the future.
Whether there lies a threat to the future of BAM or not; a real threat lies within our weary fatalism born out of a kind of pandemic driven malaise, in not responding to the call to action in the form of the public consultation here: https://www.onecommunitybury.co.uk/bury-art-museum
I can’t emphasise enough how much of a peril we are in as a society when we start to assess our culture within the bounds of cost analysis.
BAM isn’t just a place to see pretty things. It is a sounding board, a community hub, a social enterprise and a therapeutic entity. At a time when mental health issues are at an all time high and our children are suffering an epidemic of addiction to their devices, BAM offers an antidote, a listening space, a community hub, a way out. My own relationship with BAM came out of my mental health anxieties, and it has acted like an anchor throughout my adult life. In the collections, the tours and exhibitions are infinite lessons and outcomes for us all. How do you measure and put a price on that?
For time immemorial communities have been producing beautiful things as a salve to life with an understanding of the potent impact on our lives beyond their cost. It worries me that our generation might be the first to cut the 2000 year old chord and thus impact the health of our community and sever the priceless value of our Art Museum - one of the borough’s biggest assets - from future generations.
Additionally, BAM’s art collection, archives and magnificent building contribute to the civic space that informs our identity in powerful ways. The building is an anchor along the streetscape, it has a strong presence in Bury’s history and how Bury regards itself. At a time when other towns and cities (even during these difficult time) are creating remarkable and imaginative cultural extensions and spaces, it seems that we are grumbling about fixing a leaky roof on the Art Museum.
Generations aren’t judged by what they do at their peak, but by the decisions they make during a crisis. What kind of world do we want our children to live in? What messages does it convey to them and how will it impact their view upon the world and us?
Their lives are increasingly measured on the quantitive and not the qualitative - their lives are becoming increasingly digital and not spatial. How will their lives be without real places that give them time to think, that challenge and inspire them, that contribute to pride in their town and ultimately their identity?
In 2019, out of the thousands of art pieces and objects available at BAM, I chose to make a regular visit to a single art work over a year. It changed my life and my perspective. In our fast-paced world where things are always brought to the bottom line, we have to remind ourselves that there are some things out there that are priceless beyond cost benefit.
Access the public consultation here: https://www.onecommunitybury.co.uk/bury-art-museum