London’s Jewish Museum to close indefinitely amid massive losses

The institution hopes to sell its current Camden home to fund move to more suitable location in central London


The Jewish Museum in London, Britain’s leading showcase of the community’s culture and heritage, is to close indefinitely.

The decision to shut its doors this summer follows years of mounting losses that were excerbated by the Covid pandemic and the rising cost of living.

The institution hopes to sell its current Camden home to fund a move to a new, more suitable location.

But its chairman warned that the facility was unlikely to reopen in the capital for up to five years while it planned and funded the move.

Closed during the Covid pandemic, the museum finally reopened in July 2021. Its income and visitor numbers never recovered.

It has only been open to the general public for 2 days per week in a revised operating model after reopening, while it has been open for schools and other booked visits for a further 3 days of the week.

Nick Viner, the chairman of the museum’s trustees, said: “Realistically, it could be three-to-five years before we can put our vision for a new museum fit for the 21st century into practice.”

Until then, most of the museum’s collection, which includes a 13th-century mikvah, a recreation of a Jewish East End street, the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, a 17th-century Venetian synagogue Ark and bound copies of the JC stretching back to 1919, will be put into storage.

Viner, who also founded the thriving JW3 Jewish Cultural Centre on nearby Finchley Road, said he hoped to mount exhibitions in temporary premises before the museum finds a new permanent home. Its educational programmes would continue, he added, and researchers would have access to objects online.

Announcement of the closure was greeted with dismay. Ray Simonson, JW3’s chief executive, said it marked “a sad day for the community”.

The museum’s work had been “incredible”, he said, and its absence would be keenly felt, especially by the many schools who took students there on educational trips.

He added: “The museum has been inspirational and engaging, and I really hope it can find a sustainable way to reopen. But the whole of the cultural sector is finding things really hard.”

David Glasser, chair of the Ben Uri gallery and museum, Britain’s oldest Jewish cultural institution, said the news was “sad but not unexpected” given the Jewish Museum’s losses over years.

He said the decision raised two “pivotal questions”: what the museum’s purpose should be when it reopened, and how it can attract more visitors.

He added: “The board will successfully address its purpose, but does the community really need or want a Jewish museum or for that matter a Ben Uri, which continues to proudly represent the community in the international art museum sector?”

Keith Black, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, was more upbeat. He said: “This is an extraordinary opportunity to re-envisage it for the future.”

Even before the pandemic, Charity Commission records show the museum’s expenditure was outstripping its income from donors, visitors and grants by up to £500,000 a year.

In the year to March 2022, the last for which accounts have been published, its revenue was down to £820,000 — just over a third of pre-Covid level.

In May 2020 the museum received a bailout of almost £1 million from Arts Council England (ACE), which went on to award it “National Portfolio” status last November, with a further grant of £220,000 a year until 2026.

Viner said that while the museum’s income had declined, its fixed costs were high and rising.

However, he said, they were determined to move to a bigger central
London premises where visitor numbers would rise.

The value of the Camden Town site is uncertain as prospective buyers would be bound by strict planning rules on its future use.

Tonya Nelson, the ACE London Area Director, said: “We want to ensure that the nationally outstanding collection is preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

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