COUNCILLORS need to “get realistic” about how you run an art gallery, supporters of the Bath Road museum have said.

Their comments came as Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet agreed a £750,000 budget for improvements to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and to develop plans for a new combined theatre and museum in a town centre cultural quarter.

Following Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting, Linda Kasmaty of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, said: “I’m still very concerned about the semantics, as Coun Heenan calls them – the subsidy, the running cost of the museum and art gallery, paying people’s wages, the upkeep of the building, the heating, the lighting.

“He wants them to break even. Until he gets realistic about how you run a museum and art gallery I find it very hard to listen to any of what he’s saying.”

Dale Heenan, the cabinet member responsible for the new proposals, said £400,000 of the three-quarter million pound budget would be spent on essential repairs to the current Old Town building, including fixing the lift and improving signage.

But he acknowledged that Swindon’s collection of artworks and artefacts could have to stay in its current home for a number of years, while proposals for a new cultural quarter are drawn-up. Swindon Museum and Art Gallery will have £20,000 shaved off its budget this year, with the savings expected to come from cuts to spending on equipment and exhibition material and increased income projections.

Petitioning the cabinet to waive the £20,000 budget cut, Labour ward councillor for Old Town Jane Milner-Barry said: “While it’s in that building it cannot be contributing to the town as it could if it was in that proper setting.”

“It seems to me to be a shame that we’re spending £400,000 on keeping it there for an indefinite period. And it’s being asked to take a £20,000 cut in funding this year, which is so unfair because while it’s in Apsley House it has very little opportunity to raise revenue.”

Coun Heenan said that, while the museum budget had been protected over recent years, it was now time for it to break even. The extra investment would be for essential repairs that had not been carried out while the focus had been on developing bids for the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a new facility, he added.

The cabinet member told Coun Milner-Barry: “It won’t be satisfying everybody, but it’s something that we need to do. It will also help the building for discussions around future use. We can’t carry on and say there will be no investment while we sit around and agree the cultural quarter in the future.

“That’s the last thing any of us would want for our museum and art gallery.”