Smith Art Gallery and Museum faces closure after funding threat

Cullen McDonald, 3, from Larbert, looks at the world's oldest football on display at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling, Picture: Mike Day/Saltire News and Sport
Cullen McDonald, 3, from Larbert, looks at the world's oldest football on display at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling, Picture: Mike Day/Saltire News and Sport
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The museum that houses the world’s oldest football needs a millionaire benefactor to secure its future, according to its director.

The Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling could close by 2020 if Stirling Council approves a proposal to cut its funding by 90 per cent.

More than 8,000 people have signed an online petition to “Save the Smith” from what they say would be a “cultural disaster” for the city.

Now, 144 years after the Smith opened thanks to a bequest from artist Thomas Stuart Smith, director Dr Elspeth King has called for another rich benefactor to keep the attraction “alive”.

Dr King said: “Stirling Council’s priority-based budgeting process has identified cutting funding of the Stirling Smith by 90 per cent as a necessary saving. With a cut of £242,000, we will be forced to close by 2020, so we are looking for another Thomas Stuart Smith. We need a trust fund, something like £10 million, which would generate an income on which we could operate.

“Thomas Stuart Smith’s trust fund lasted right in to the 1970s, and it was only then that the Smith was taken into the care of the local authority.

“I recognise that museums and art galleries are not a mandatory part of local authority provision, like libraries.

“If we could get a trust fund from which we could draw down revenue – and which would enable us to generate other revenue independently – we could make a go of being totally independent of the local authority’s purse.”

The Smith – formerly the Smith Institute – has played an important role in the city since it was established in 1874 on land supplied by the then Burgh of Stirling.

The Smith collection contains more than 40,000 important artworks and objects including the world’s oldest football. The leather and pig’s bladder ball was found in rafters in the Queen’s Chamber at Stirling Castle by workers in 1981. The ball is thought to have become lodged there in the 1540s, when a young Mary Queen of Scots lived there.

Visitors can also see the world’s oldest curling stone, which dates back to 1511, and the 15th century “Stirling Jug” by which all other measures in Scotland were calibrated until the weights and measures system was changed after the Act of Union in 1707.

A Stirling Council spokesman said final funding decisions would not be taken until councillors meet to set the budget on 22 February.