Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) (arts 114)

AIM (the Association of Independent Museums) is the national UK body connecting, supporting and representing independent museums.

Founded in 1977 in response to the growing number of community-based projects seeking to preserve locally and nationally-important heritage, AIM has grown to become a respected sector group, consulted on national policy and providing a thriving network for members.

Independent museums range from small local organisations, mainly operated by volunteers, to large institutions, many operating as charities, and represent over half the museum provision in the UK.


· As primarily voluntary organisations delivering social benefits within local communities, independent museums are well placed to deliver the aspirations of the ‘Big Society’. Some targeted public investment is needed to unlock and enhance this potential.

· AIM members have a range of different business models and therefore the degree to which they rely on public funds varies greatly. It is clear that some member museums will be adversely impacted upon by cuts in central and local government funding whilst others are much more closely reliant on consumer spending and the health of the tourism economy.

· We have concerns over the current inequity that exists in the use of public funds within museums and in particular the way that Renaissance funds have been limited to a hand-full of museums.

· AIM has many very small museums as members and we are particularly concerned over the threat posed by spending cuts on the structures that are currently in place at a local level to support them in benefiting communities.

· AIM would welcome the opportunity to play a greater role in this support following the abolition of the MLA.

· We welcome recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery whilst expressing a note of caution over the capacity of organisations to deliver large-scale capital projects at a time of pressure on core funds.

· The majority of our membership is made up of very small museums who would not have the capacity or opportunities to develop new partnerships with philanthropists or businesses. We do not really see this as a strong potential source of funding outside of London and the South East of England.

· AIM would welcome the opportunity to expand on any of these points or provide examples of good practice should the committee wish it.

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;

AIM members, most of which are charities, have a range of different business models and therefore the degree to which they rely on public funds varies greatly.

Some members operate museums on behalf of, or funded by, local authorities and in many of these cases have seen successive cuts to the funding available over the last few years. Due to the nature of independent museums they do not carry excess overheads or un-necessary costs meaning that sudden reductions in core funds could have a catastrophic effect on some, potentially meaning closure.

Most independent museums make an admission charge to visit in order to cover the costs of operation. For national and most local authority museum this cost has been met by public subsidy putting our members at a major disadvantage in terms of attracting visitors. Reduction in this subsidy meaning that admission charges are once again passed on to visitors at all museums would therefore not seriously disadvantage our members.

Whilst many independent museums are not directly part of Museum Hubs, any reduction in funding to Renaissance would inevitably have an impact on our members. In particular Renaissance funds have been used to support a network of Museum Development Officers which have been invaluable in helping particularly smaller, community-led museums to engage fully with social and professional agendas and maximise their benefit to local people and the tourism economy. AIM has taken a lead in helping this network to operate more coherently across the UK and is keen to work with DCMS and local authorities to ensure that this valuable resource is not lost.

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

As previously stated, independent museums, coming primarily from the voluntary sector, have always been very conscious of keeping administration costs to a minimum. There are certainly opportunities that exist in joint marketing initiatives between museums and with other cultural organisations, an approach already happening between the Lightbox in Surrey and the Woking Arts Centre.

We are also seeing examples of independent museum trusts taking on management of local authority museums, most recently in Northumberland, with a view to making economies of scale.

What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable;

Many independent museums generate their own core funding from admission charging but we recognise the need for public funding in a mixed economy of museum provision across the UK.

Generally, we would see public funding as an investment rather than a subsidy, enabling the benefits of independent museums to be delivered in areas such as skills development, tackling worklessness through volunteering and creating positive activities for young people.

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

There seems very little fairness nor strategic planning with regard to the spread or levels of public funding into museums. As already stated, many of our largest independent museums eg Bristol’s SS Great Britain Trust receive no core public funding whereas others are reliant on public funds for their survival. Similarly, in Renaissance there seems little logic in the inequitable approach of significantly funding some museums within a region whilst not funding others and seemingly no mechanism to bid for a share of the funding available.

We would favour a levelling of the playing field which funds museums based on their ability to deliver success rather than propping up failing institutions. We would also like to see museums rewarded for entrepreneurialism and delivering social impact.

There remain some imbalances in public funding between museums and with other parts of the cultural sector around the mix of local and national government investment. Many museums are reliant on local authority funding as their sole public funder with little or no access to other areas (unlike eg many arts organizations who receive funds from ACE and local authorities).

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

AIM welcomes the recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery Funds and believes that they will have a positive impact on the arts and heritage. However, the capacity of cultural organisations to develop and deliver new capital projects at a time of reducing core funds is a concern.

Whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed;

Given the pressures on core funding it would make strong sense to re-look at the role of endowments as part of national lottery funding. We would also like to see more eligibility for covering the relevant core costs of an organisation delivering large scale projects.

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;

AIM is concerned that the loss of a specific sector agency for museums could lead to a loss in the momentum that has doubtless been created in recent years in terms of unlocking the social and economic potential of museums within communities. We are particularly interested in the future of museums development as well as other MLA roles around accreditation, government indemnity and acceptance in lieu.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss how AIM might be best placed to deliver some of MLA’s former roles, particularly museum development, in a new mixed economy of delivery.

We are aware of some discussions about Arts Council England taking a wider remit with regard to Museums and would hope for reassurance that the distinct nature and needs of museums are not lost in a more general cultural agency. We would however welcome a more consistent and equitable approach to funding within the cultural sector that such an agency might bring.

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

Whilst we can see that many of the (particularly London based) National Museums may be able to secure more funds in this way, AIM has serious concerns over the capacity of many of our smaller members to engage fully in this agenda. There would be a need for support to be put in place to enable them to learn the skills and make the contacts and, whilst AIM would be well placed to offer this support, even then we would worry that they would not be of sufficient scale to take any opportunities that might be available. Our larger members, along with National Museums, are already working in this area but our experience is that outside of London and the South East this is not really likely to have a major effect.

We do not believe that wealthy people or businesses would want to see their capital tied up in endowments by conservative charities who will make far less from the capital than they would themselves. We also think that such givers do not want to replace government funding (national or local) so asking them to give more to an organisation which is going through problems is unlikely to succeed.

We think that there may be some potential to exploit legacy-giving within the arts and heritage and would welcome more long term investment in this area which can take many years to repay investment.

Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

Increased tax incentives focused on encouraging philanthropy in this area would be very welcome, particularly opt out rather than opt in gift aid, and bigger corporation and private individual tax breaks. Specific government initiatives to support the engagement of businesses with culture are also important.

We would also like to see consideration given to extending acceptance in lieu to gifts made whilst alive and the promotion of more giving through legacies via the tax system.

September 2010