Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Midlands Federation of Museums & Art Galleries (arts 26)

1. Executive summary

1.1 Museums in the Midlands are facing as yet unknown but presumed significant cuts in the Renaissance in the Regions funding and in funding from local authorities. There is very real concern that museums will close or offer much reduced services in the future.

1.2 This comes at a time of high popularity for local museums but the uncertainty means they are unable to capitalise on this success or plan for the future.

1.3 The abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council raises concerns that professional advice and standards for museums will not be continued.

1.4 Although private funding and more entrepreneurial and partnership working offers a solution for the future, these changes will take time and new skills to implement and the options outside London are limited.

2. Introduction

2.1 The Midlands Federation of Museums & Art Galleries is a membership organisation open to institutions and all people working in museums and galleries in the East and West Midlands Government Office regions. The Federation is a registered charity that aims to promote the objects of our national professional body, the Museums Association, by holdings meetings, providing information and encouraging the better administration of museums and art galleries in the Federation area. The Federation has been supporting museum professionals in the Midlands since the 1940s and has worked with museums in boom times and in recession.

2.2 This memorandum sets out the response of the Federation to the CMS Committee’s ‘Funding of the Arts and Heritage' Inquiry, concentrating on the questions highlighted by the committee. The memorandum has been prepared specifically for submission to the CMS committee.

3. Impact of spending cuts

3.1 In times of economic uncertainly, people feel reassured by looking back at history and increasingly value creative and cultural experiences, particularly those close to home. Since the current recession began, museums across the Midlands region have seen increased visitor numbers, increased volunteer recruitment and increased research enquiries.

Renaissance project funding

3.2 Museums in the Midlands are concerned about the impact of cuts and reorganisation on the flagship Renaissance in the Regions programme of funding for regional museums and about the current lack of clarity. Both the largest and smallest regional museums and their visitors may be negatively affected by reductions in Renaissance funding.

3.3 The Renaissance 'Hub' museums in each region have delivered major projects that have extended access to collections through interpretation and exhibitions, opening up stored collections, and providing online resources. These projects together with investment in learning programmes have delivered large increases in audience numbers and engagement with heritage and culture.

3.4 The benefits of Renaissance-funded training programmes have spread well beyond hub museums and resulted in staff and volunteers in museums of all sizes and types having access to free, high quality training opportunities with consequent benefits for audiences. The network of Museum Development Officers (MDOs) established through Renaissance has resulted in valuable practical support and advice for non-hub museums, leading to better interpretation and care of collections held at local level.

3.5 The benefits of the MDO and training programmes extend to small and independent museums run and staffed by volunteers. There are many volunteer-run museums striving to work to professional standards, and they need the continuing support and regional knowledge of professionals from the sector. These museums, which might be seen as fitting the 'Big Society' agenda, are therefore also at risk from the cuts even though their direct government funding is minimal or non-existent.

3.6 There have been proposals to replace the Renaissance Hub museums with a network of 'core museums'. To date there has been very little detail about what a core museum will be leading to concerns that the benefits of Renaissance to the wider museum sector will be reduced.

3.7 The museum profession is small and currently a significant proportion of museum staff are employed on temporary Renaissance-funded contracts. We hope that if there is to be a transition, it will be handled in a well-structured and timely fashion. Museums need to be able to plan how their services will be delivered in the future; and we would hope to avoid the stress, de-motivation and exit from the profession of many knowledgeable and skilled museum staff.

Lottery funding

3.8 The Lottery (and specifically the Heritage Lottery Fund) has been enormously beneficial to museums and galleries both large and small in the decade since it was set up particularly in collections care and visitor access, and has helped to leverage additional funding from other sources. Rumours about changes in its administration are discouraging museums from submitting applications and thus are not planning improvements to provide increased access to the country's heritage assets.

Local authority funding

3.9 As well as cuts to the Renaissance programme, there is great concern that local authority support for museums and galleries will be reduced, leading to cuts in opening hours, reductions in programmes and services available to the public, closure of some museums, new admission charges in others and overall a reduction in the care and interpretation of those parts of our heritage that local authorities hold in trust for society.

3.10 Most small and medium-sized local authority museums are already run on a shoestring, with limited numbers of staff and tiny operational budgets. Despite often widespread local support, local authority museums are non-statutory services and have been an easy target for budget-cutting in recent years as government targets and priorities have pushed council budgets elsewhere.

3.11 Cuts to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council put at risk the guidance given by its regional Field Teams to local authorities, work which has encouraged councils to recognise, value and support the contributions that museums are making to key local priorities such as learning and social cohesion. Collectively the forthcoming cuts risk being a double or triple whammy for local authority museums and their visitors.

4. Organisations working more closely together

4.1 The Renaissance programme has demonstrated the benefits of partnerships between museums, for example collaborative projects that have produced exhibitions and programmes that have toured between venues.

4.2 Partnerships are not cost-free: for example while the cost of research may be reduced when shared between partners, the infrastructure and transport required for a touring exhibition may be greater than that required for an exhibition in one museum.

4.3 Access to museum collections cannot take place without access to expertise (for example, in interpretation, care of collections, subject specialist knowledge). If the number of knowledgeable museum professionals across the region are reduced because of funding cuts, the opportunities to work in partnership will be reduced also.

5. Abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

5.1 The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the former Museums & Galleries Commission and the regional museum agencies have held a position at arms' length from the overseeing government department. We are concerned that, in the haste to reduce the number of quangos, the principle of culture being independent of and uncensored by government might be compromised.

5.2 The MLA has already undergone a major restructuring in 2008-2009, including the winding up of its former regional agencies. Museums had only just re-established contacts for advice, guidance and standards and now need to start again.

5.2 There is further concern that no clear future or support has yet been identified for programmes and funds administered by the MLA and highly valued by museums in the regions. At best the profession is uncertain where to go for support during the transition, but there is concern that some programmes will not be continued.

5.3 These programmes include the Accreditation standard, which has led the raising of standards in museums across the country, and provides a quality benchmark for both the public and major funders including the Heritage Lottery Fund. We hope that the knowledge of the staff involved with the Accreditation scheme will be retained and transferred, and that the future operation of the scheme will be appropriately funded.

5.4 Other valued MLA programmes are Designation which recognises and supports nationally important collections in non-national museum and Inspiring Learning for All which has driven up the quality and measurement of learning in museums.

5.6 The PRISM and V&A Purchase Grant Funds have provided vital support for the acquisition and conservation of artefacts, specimens and artworks in regional museums.

5.7 Whatever the eventual decisions about the MLA's programmes and funding, it is important that there is continuity through the transition period, with decisions being made and announced well in advance of implementation, for the benefit of museums and the MLA's own staff.

6. Funding through philanthropy

6.1 The Federation welcomes efforts to diversify the funding of museums and galleries. The National Museum Directors Conference reported in 2008 that while 'since 1992 there has been a 25% rise in personal incomes in the UK, and personal wealth has more than doubled... yet there has been a 25% fall in charitable giving as a percentage of GDP': in short, the potential of philanthropic giving is not being borne out in practice.

6.2 It is more common for fine and applied arts to receive private support than local history and natural sciences, meaning that the challenges in gaining sponsorship and donations vary across the sector.

6.3 Outside London, where national and international firms with significant sponsorship budgets tend to be based, and where wealthy individuals are disproportionately represented, the potential for growth in both corporate and individual giving is ultimately limited. A report for Arts & Business in 2007 found that 'out of total UK philanthropy (i.e. individual giving), 3.6% goes to the arts. 78% of that goes into London or National organisations. This means that culture in the regions attracts just 0.79% of total UK giving' (John Holden, Funding Decentralisation in the UK Cultural Sector: How have we done so far?). Within the area covered by the Federation, the figures from Arts and Business show that the East Midlands has the lowest level of private giving anywhere in the United Kingdom except for Northern Ireland.

6.4 While there are prospects for growth in these figures given suitable encouragement through legislation, it is highly improbable that private funding will ever contribute a proportion of income to culture outside London that comes close to equalling that available to national organisations based in London.

6.5 Any change in the amount and extent of giving will take years if not decades to happen, and cannot be expected to rapidly replace other funding.

7. Government incentives to encourage private donations

7.1 In 2004 the Treasury received the Goodison review, Securing the Best for our Museums: Private Giving and Government Support. It is disappointing that the recommendations made by Sir Nicholas Goodison were only partially implemented.

7.2 The unimplemented Goodison proposals focused on tax relief for the gift of works of art, which, while welcome to museums, only partly addresses the needs of the wider museum sector.

7.3 The 2008 manifesto produced by leading cultural organisations, Private Giving for the Public Good, which makes the case for providing greater incentives for living donors to make gifts of objects to the cultural sector, and to give greater recognition to people who give to the cultural sector. It may now be appropriate to hold a further review, investigating the benefits of a number of measures to encourage giving, including fiscal incentives.

September 2010