Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Fiona Macalister (arts 96)

1. I am writing in response to the consultation into the proposed cuts to arts funding as an independent conservator who has worked for over 20 years in museums (national – British Museum and the then National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, university - the Ashmolean Museum and local authority – Bristol’s Museums Gallery and Archives), eight years for the National Trust, mainly as an adviser with a national remit, a year providing advice to smaller museums through Renaissance SW and for the last two years independently. I am a member of the DCMS Emergency Planning Group and a member of the associated Emergency Planning sub-group, contributing as a trainer to training delivery. When employed by the National Trust I was the NT’s observer for the DCMS working group for carrying forward the findings of Understanding the Future. While I am an accredited conservator and work in a freelance capacity for the Institute of Conservation (Icon) as a regional coordinator, supporting largely HLF funded conservation internships in various heritage organisations and private studios I am writing in a private capacity.

2. Of the questions identified to be addressed through the consultation I will be addressing the following:

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;
What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable;
What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations;
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;
Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level;
Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

3. It is to be greatly welcomed that David Cameron, Prime Minister, speaking earlier in August 2010 highlighted the importance of heritage to the UK and in particular to tourism. This link has been mentioned in a number of important studies over recent years including the DEMOS report1 commissioned by the internationally renowned Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton, when under threat of closure.

4. It is to be greatly welcomed that the present government’s intention is that a greater proportion of the National Lottery should be allocated to heritage. This will be vital particularly where cuts are made to services funded through national bodies and local authorities. The Heritage Lottery Fund has achieved a great deal that has enhanced access to collections and heritage and with the recent investment of £17m in Skills for the Future is helping to ensure that heritage skills are developed and acquired by a greater diversity of peoples. It is unlikely, however, that the increase in funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund will compensate adequately for cuts to other bodies.

5. What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable? I find this impossible to answer except that while the arts and heritage may be subsidised in so far as they receive public funding it is undoubtedly true that they bring in a great deal in terms of income to regions, cities and not simply for the organisations themselves. They are draws for the tourism industry. The Banksy v Bristol Museum exhibition, which ran for two and a half months in 2009 brought in £millions to the city during the course of the exhibition and was of massive benefit to the city and local businesses.

6. Significant cuts in spending from central and local Government will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the provision of services in the heritage sector; on the long term survival of collections and their availability for those who come after us; on the maintenance and up keep of buildings; on the availability of training opportunities for younger generations and as a draw for tourism. Cuts in the order of 25% would inevitably lead to cuts in staff. While a number of museums are thinking imaginatively about how they might use voluntary assistance there are many aspects of work within non-volunteer run museums which could not easily be passed to volunteers without employing an adequate number of staff to be responsible for the work carried out.

7. The impact of large cuts to central and local Government spending on heritage could be great in the areas of conservation. It is likely that if the cuts are large priorities will be to maintain buildings, security and keeping establishments open. Areas such as conservation and curatorship are likely to bear the brunt of large cuts. The report A Cultural Blueprint. A Workforce Development Plan stated that:

"There are certain skills and knowledge unique to this sector that could be classified as ‘fragile’ or ‘at risk’. This includes specialist knowledge of collections and buildings and the technical, conservation and traditional skills needed to maintain our heritage and bring it to life."2

"Employers do not always acknowledge their role and responsibility in ensuring the continuance of many specialist skills. Organisations increasingly outsource skills to freelancers and consultants so in-house knowledge and skills can dwindle." 3

Belatedly the heritage sector itself is becoming aware that there is a very real risk of insufficient capacity within conservation and large cuts now could exacerbate this situation.

8. I do not know whether the cuts to DCMS will affect areas such as Emergency Planning and Business Continuity but the work which has been carried out in this area in the last few years has been very influential and the guidance provided has been invaluable. Cuts in this area may result in less collaboration and less partnership working in an area where effective response can be dependent on the level of collaboration.

9. In many regions Renaissance in the Regions has been very effective at providing training and raising standards of collections care in museums and heritage organisations, thereby helping to ensure the preservation of the collections and facilitating their use and re-interpretation by sections of the public not previously engaged. Reduction in Renaissance funding will have a large impact on those organisations which have to date benefited from the funding, either directly or indirectly. This may however be the time to review how these funds are allocated.

10. The Museums Libraries and Archives Council has gone though frequent re-inventions over many years and throughout all this time the staff have worked very effectively at providing leadership and raising standards across these three areas. For museums the Accreditation Standard has been particularly effective; the advice provided by the Security Adviser has been essential. While some of the functions previously carried out by former reincarnations of the MLA are now carried out by organisations such as Collections Trust and the Museums Association these bodies cannot effectively take the place of the MLA. It is understood that there is a possibility that the MLA may be taken under the wing of English Heritage. It is very unclear at this stage how this would operate.

11. There is undoubtedly a role for businesses and philanthropists in funding and supporting the arts, as many have done over the years and continue to do. It is unlikely, however, as the country faces an uncertain future financially that many businesses will be able to justify spending money on heritage. While major exhibitions bring in huge sums of money and large numbers of visitors to a region/city it is difficult to predict what will capture the public’s imagination.

12. Government incentives to encourage private donations would be welcome, but not as a substitute for public funding.

September 2010

[1] It’s a Material World. Caring for the public realm. Jones, S and Holden, J. 2008 Demos

[2] A Cultural Blueprint. A Workforce Development Plan. Creative and Cultural Skills Council, MLA and MA 2008 p.35

[3] As above