Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Oxford University Museums (arts 53)

The University of Oxford’s museums constitute a heritage collection of acknowledged national and international importance, both educationally and culturally. Receiving some 2 million visitors a year, the museums constitute a major part of Oxford’s attraction as a world city. Government policies and priorities in the heritage sector are of critical importance to us in resourcing, caring for, and making accessible those collections for all.

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the present consultation exercise and offer the following submission.


· Four internationally-renowned museums: Ashmolean Museum, Museum of the History of Science, Museum of Natural History, Pitt Rivers Museum – together comprising probably the most extensive university museums collection in the world. Entrance to all is currently free.

· Very broad range of collections, across fine and applied art, archaeology, ethnography, natural history and science collections, all Designated as of national and international significance.

· Four separate museums with distinct identities but with a strong focus on and commitment to collaboration, both amongst themselves (to achieve organisational efficiency) and with other museums nationally and internationally (e.g. loans of over 15,000 objects and specimens to 247 venues in 2009-10).

· Doubling of visitor numbers in recent years, to around 2 million p.a.

· Successful fundraising for major capital projects (c.£60m in recent years e.g. Ashmolean redevelopment, Pitt Rivers extension and remodelling) which has created state-of-the-art museum facilities. However, charities and private donors make it clear to us that their support is conditional upon governmental support, not an alternative to it.

· Range of awards – most recently, the Queen’s Anniversary Prize to the University’s museums, libraries and archives for their work in support of research, learning and public education; cited as ‘an exceptional resource, accessed by more than two million people each year’ which provide ‘imaginative educational programmes for researchers, learners, children and the general public’. Other awards include major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund to three of the museums, The Guardian newspaper’s award in 2005 to two of the museums as the most ‘family friendly’ museums in the country, and various architectural awards to the Ashmolean for their most recent major redevelopment, which has transformed its displays and facilities to international acclaim.

What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level

1. As the previous Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report noted with concern, university museum funding is ‘precarious’. The University’s four museums continue to depend upon an unstable portfolio of funding sources, including the competitive ‘core funding’ allocation from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), funding from the Renaissance in the Regions programme, grants from generous trusts, foundations and private donors, commercial operations, academic awards from the research councils to investigate and make available areas of the collections, and substantial grants from Oxford University itself. In the last academic year, the total such income received by the University’s museums (excluding grants for capital projects) was £14.7m.

2. Of these, the single most significant annual source is HEFCE’s core funding stream which has been the stable platform underpinning everything the four museums do to care for and curate the collections, serve the great numbers of visitors now welcomed annually, and respond to the many local, national and international loan requests received every year. In the last academic year, the University’s museums received £3.5m in such ‘core funding’. In 2009, HEFCE reviewed their ‘core funding’ programme, amid concerns on the part of recipient university museums that the programme might be discontinued or radically reduced. This university was very pleased that the programme was not terminated, although the programme’s criteria have been sharply narrowed to focus on academic rather than public access, and the total funding available has not been fully maintained against inflation. Moreover, although HEFCE had originally indicated that the awards made against the new criteria would be for a five-year period, HEFCE have more recently indicated that the financial landscape makes very real the possibility of further cuts from 2011-12.

3. A second, major source of indirect governmental support for the University’s museums has been the Renaissance programme administered by MLA, which has funded the extensive (and award-winning) education and outreach work undertaken by the University’s museums. Over the last academic year, the University’s museums received £1.2m in Renaissance funding. As the Committee knows, the current Renaissance business plan concludes at the end of March 2011, MLA is to be dissolved, and the future of any Renaissance funding, its level, and the criteria against which it will be allocated are at present unclear. The University echoes the hope expressed by the Committee in their previous report that ‘DCMS should be in a strong position to secure a continuing budget for Renaissance which may be seen as a "perfect Treasury programme" given its demonstrable impact.’

4. A further indirect but increasingly important source of funding for university museums lies in research council grants for collections-based academic projects. Such projects often have major spin-off benefits in compiling and making available new information on collections, via books, articles, exhibitions and websites. Informal indications are that research councils are likely to face substantial reductions in the government funding available to distribute in the form of research awards. This will affect the ability of Oxford’s museums to continue to make the researched wealth of their collections as available as formerly.

5. As a result of HEFCE’s recent review and subsequent allocations of funding to university museums, three of the University’s four museums have retained level funding. However, the Museum of the History of Science is now working with the University to manage the considerable impact of an immediate cut in core funding of over 50% - a considerable challenge by any standards. (And this in a museum that has increased its visitor numbers tenfold since redevelopment in 2001.)

6. Considerable uncertainty attends the future level - and in the case of Renaissance, the future existence – of key sources of support amounting to a very substantial percentage of the University’s museums’ current income. The future impact of cuts will naturally hinge on their severity. Depending on the funding stream that is reduced or abolished, the impact potentially includes curtailment of opening hours, reduction of outreach and educational work done by museums, less ambitious exhibition programmes, inability to respond to regional, national and international requests for loans, and a reduction in Oxford’s attraction as a tourist destination. Moreover, because Oxford’s museums depend on diverse funding sources, the reduction in any one of them feeds back to affect others – including, crucially, the museums’ attractiveness to private and commercial sponsors.

7. The Committee noted in their previous report on the subject: ‘Museums cannot be expected to fulfil their potential under such uncertain conditions.’ This situation has not improved; moreover, we continue to believe that university museums fall between the two stools of DCMS and higher education funding, with neither sector considering university museums to fall fully within their remit. The recent narrowing by HEFCE of the criteria for distributing what was intended to be ‘core funding’ to more exclusively academic provision sharply illustrates this point (see also 9 below).

What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale

8. Oxford’s own four museums each have a distinct identity and public reputation. Economies and efficiencies are achieved through cross-representation on governing bodies, and a single reporting line to the responsible Pro-Vice-Chancellor. The museums already work together in delivering a highly regarded educational service and actively share experience and best practice in the management of other activities, including commercial opportunities. Beyond Oxford, the museums have multiple links and partnerships with other museum and academic bodies, many of them international and reinforced by loans and shared exhibitions. Significant partnerships and information-sharing networks in this country include Oxford’s city museum, our partners in Renaissance’s southeast ‘hub’, the University Museums Group and, in the case of the Ashmolean, membership of the National Museum Directors Conference. This also enables the sharing of best practice and creative thinking with regard to common issues, leading to the development and delivery of effective solutions at the local level.

Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one

9. Our primary interest is not with the system or structure of funding distribution but to ensure that our museums receive a level of support which is commensurate with their value and their contribution to the nation’s cultural life and heritage. It has become a matter of increasing concern that the significance of the collections ranks alongside that of major national collections, yet funding levels are far lower than those enjoyed by institutions (large and small) which are designated as national collections. The national and international importance of the collections and thus their place in supporting scholarship, education and wider social purposes cannot be overstated: for example, the collections of the Ashmolean include the largest and most important collection of Raphael drawings in the world and the greatest Anglo-Saxon collections outside the British Museum. Core funding for Oxford’s museums is currently less than £2.00 per visitor, a fraction of the core funding received by DCMS-funded museums. (For example, in 2007-8 the Natural History Museum received £13.46 per visitor.)

What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations

10. Heritage Lottery Funding has been of fundamental importance to the success of major capital projects at three of the University’s four museums over the past decade. The project to extend and upgrade the infrastructure of the Pitt Rivers Museum is used by the HLF as a case study of best practice. As with central core funding, the HLF has also served to stimulate engagement from the charitable and philanthropic sectors. The recent increase announced in HLF funding is therefore much to be welcomed.

The impact of recent changes to DCMS arms-length bodies – in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

11. The abolition of the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council naturally gives rise to considerable concern about the future of Renaissance funding. Renaissance has allowed vital investment in the museums’ outreach and education services, enabled the museums to work to deliver local and government initiatives, and encouraged use of the university museum collections by the local population and tourists, thereby supporting the local economy.

12. Renaissance or a successor programme needs to be transparent and build on previous investment by central government and the museum services themselves. The criteria for future government support need to recognise, amongst other things, the importance and quality of collections, high visitor numbers, value for money, potential to use Renaissance to leverage further funding, and how any investment may support the local, and national economy.

13. Any future mechanism for the delivery of Renaissance funding to front-line museum services needs to ensure that it requires minimum bureaucracy and enables the greatest possible benefits to users, localities and the economy.

Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level

14. One of the great values of HEFCE ‘core funding’ over the years has been in leveraging additional funds from other sources, who give particular weight to the fact that the core funding has been awarded as a result of open competition with other museums and galleries nationally. Far from being alternative funding sources that can be further exploited in order to fill the gap left by reductions in government funding, philanthropic and charitable foundations in particular expect to see in place a firm and reliable foundation of state support as a pre-condition for granting additional resources.

15. To cite one example: The Ashmolean Museum reopened in November 2009 following a major £61 million redevelopment project. The new building, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Linbury Trust and a range of other donors, has doubled the Museum’s display space as well as providing a dedicated education centre and study rooms, and state of the art conservation studios. In the first year of opening, visitor figures are projected to be 1.2 million, trebling previous figures. This transformational project has met with widespread acclaim by the international media and public. In 2010, the Ashmolean was one of four museums shortlisted for the UK’s most prestigious museum award, The Art Fund Prize. At present it is shortlisted for Europe’s renowned architectural award, the RIBA Stirling Prize 2010, along with the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award and the World Architecture Festival Awards. Yet none of this would have been possible without a basis of core funding from which the Ashmolean has been able to leverage its extensive fundraising campaign. Similar examples, albeit on a smaller scale, could be provided from the University’s other three museums.

September 2010