Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Museum of South Somerset (arts 59)

Main points in the discussion are:

· The current system of funding for museums is not the correct one. How to distribute funding from DCMS for the Arts and Heritage, in particular museums. Paragraphs 10 – 16.

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. Anyone working in the heritage and arts sector would acknowledge that our sectors are not as imperative to public welfare as hospitals, waste collections etc. but the sector does make a difference to the enjoyment individuals receive in life. This is why the sector should still receive Government funding.

2. The museum I work in was founded on the idea that to celebrate victory in World War I, something should be built to the memory of the men lost in battle. Something that would inspire people, give them enjoyment and to sometimes challenge their perceptions of life and the answer was a museum.

3. We are only a small museum but just to give an example of the enjoyment received, I am quoting a recent letter from a child:

‘Dear owner, me, my friend Louise and Char. We really enjoyed it here and it is amazing. Please tell the manager. We wrote this about your museum. P.S. Love the clothes. IT IS BRILLIANT.’1

4. Museums engage with all ages and levels of societies, at a time when social mobility is important. It is good to remember that museums appeal to; and are for everyone and not just an elite section of society.

5. Hub museums will find it difficult to operate as they are at present; following cuts in funding for museums. However, Community Museums (the smaller market town museums) will probably not see a significant change in their day-to-day running. Community Museums are used to running on low budgets already and accept that they do not receive the same proportionate funding that is awarded to Hub Museums. Receiving funding via a hub museum is a bonus for any Community Museum, it is not expected.

6. It will be a challenge for the hub museums to become more commercial, sustainable and self-supporting rather than self-indulgent. An example of a commercially successful exhibition is the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Exhibitions need to be of a subject that the public wish to view, not of a Victorian Gentleman’s personal collection of items. I doubt that the public would queue for 5 hours plus to see a Victorian Gentleman’s personal collection as they did to view Banksy’s exhibition.

7. Museums are imperative to Tourism and also the health and well-being of the general public. Museums showcase history and culture to international and domestic visitors, in 2009, tourism was worth £115.4 billion2 to the UK economy and museums played an important part in attracting visitors. History gives a person an identity as shown in the BBC television programme Who Do You Think You Are? For a country where personal identity has been culturally important since the 12th century, hundreds of years before other European countries, to remove access to history is to remove access to personal and cultural identity.

What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in

order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale?

8. Arts organisations need to cut bureaucracy and red tape and focus on being accessible to the general public. Resources and information should be shared, as it is possible that certain jobs are being duplicated within several different organisations. Partnership working is the key.

What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is

necessary and sustainable?

9. The level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage which is necessary and sustainable is one which keeps the present facilities at least open, if not operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Museums, if they have to, can run on very little, with the resources they have. The question would be how to obtain funding to purchase important historical donations.

Whether the current system, and structure, of funding

distribution is the right one?

10. The current structure of funding distribution for museums is not the right one. A system is needed to ensure fair distribution of what funding will be available in the future, at a faster speed. At the moment, Renaissance South West, a partnership of 5 museums, distributes the programme of investment. In the South West, a largely rural area, the 5 museums are all in urban areas - Bristol, Bournemouth, Exeter, Plymouth and Truro – note none in Somerset. As a consequence the majority of the funding received is concentrated on these 5 museums.

11. In the Renaissance South West Business Plan for 2009-2011, the Royal Cornwall Museum received £1,063,000 in specific funding whereas the Bristol Museums received £1,946,000. A disproportionate figure when you consider the populations of Cornwall and Bristol. A case could be argued that Somerset and Cornwall have compatible rural and urban areas and also populations, so why wasn’t the County Museum in Taunton awarded hub status and a budget of £1,000,000+.

12. I have used these figures to point out an example of disproportionate funding in the current system. Another example of problems with the current system is the time limit you have to wait until you hear whether you have been awarded funding. Do the hub museums wait until perhaps a more ‘local to them’ project applies for funding? The successful Heritage Road Show (1000+ visitors in 2008, 2500+ visitors in 2009, 0 visitors in 2010 as no access to funding3) in Somerset has had problems with obtaining funding, it is either awarded very late and it is a rush to organise the event or awarded too late and the event has had to be cancelled. The way forward is to focus on how to better distribute these funds appropriately and to keep the momentum of events like this going.

13. The best way to distribute funding is not to make the Museums responsible for the distribution of funds but the Government Department -DCMS and making individual posts accountable for the distribution. The Museum Development Officer network is the best way to distribute funds in the regions. All counties within the jurisdiction of Renaissance South West have at least one Museum Development Officer. With funding becoming ever more increasingly limited, the Museum Development Officer is a post, which should know which museums will do the most with funding awarded, who needs it the most and who will make the best use of it. A case of best practice and good value.

14. The Museum Development Officer could be made directly responsible to the DCMS for funds. The DCMS should not be wary of making one individual accountable for funds distribution within a county, the Museum Development Officer will also become accountable to the Hub Museums and the Community Museums, who will find it easier to find out where funding has been apportioned than it is at the moment. It would also be feasible to have a post, which oversees the Museum Development Officers in a region, perhaps the Museum Development Manager for the South West. This would be another check for accountability for funds.

15. Since the appointment of an MDO for Somerset, £94,5654 worth of funding has been obtained for museum projects including £1,500 for Crewkerne Museum to create loan boxes, activities and resources around the local weaving and webbing industries.

16. I understand that Renaissance South West had an underspend of £4m in 2009/2010. I’m afraid that I have no evidence of this, just hearsay but if it is correct, this demonstrates that the funding is not being distributed adequately.

The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm's-length bodies - in

particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums,

Libraries and Archives Council?

17. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council was important in recognising and implementing national standards for museums. It is important that this role continues in a certain form. Museums are still suffering from the time, previously to the MLA, where paperwork was not completed, items went missing in museum’s stores and curators treated collections as their personal property and many limited public access to the collection. To have an important historical object, for example a Neolithic stone arrowhead, and to have no context or information on this object because the person who knew all about it had the information in their head and is now dead is extremely frustrating. This has happened too often even in a small museum like the Museum of South Somerset and is not a system that museums should be allowed to be returned to.

Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role

in funding arts at a national and local level?

18. Most certainly businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level. The most important and interesting historical items in our museum’s collection have come from ‘local families’. Families who have lived in the large houses in South Somerset and who have wished to do something for their community and to be remembered for their generosity. The idea that the Government should be responsible for heritage and arts is one that needs to be changed. We are all responsible and in giving time, an object or money to an organisation is to be encouraged.

Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage

private donations?

19. Definitely. Perhaps tax relief or even an Honours system acknowledging the contribution a private individual has made to the country’s heritage could be incentives. The enjoyment that a member of the general public can obtain from seeing an amazing painting or an historical object cannot be measured. If the donor could sometimes be made aware of this enjoyment and how important it is culturally and personally to an individual, it would make more people wish to come forward. Museums are very good at receiving objects for donations and cataloguing them and then hiding them away in a museum store. We store this information for everyone, it should be accessible to everyone and it should be made public as to how important this is.

September 2010

[1] Letter held at Museum of South Somerset


[2] Report by The Museums Association entitled Tourists….Love Museums


[3] Visitor figures received from Somerset County Council Museum and Library Service

[4] Funding report by Natalie Watson, MDO for Somerset.