Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Society of Antiquaries of London (arts 117)

The Society of Antiquaries (founded 1707) is one of the country’s oldest learned societies, forms part of the campus of bodies around the courtyard of Burlington House, Piccadilly, and comprises a Fellowship of 3,000 archaeologists, art and architectural historians, numismatists and other skilled professionals. Ours was the first organisation ever to consider and care for the notion of ‘heritage’; before the foundation of national museums we were given works of art and artefacts for preservation and public benefit. Like the Royal Academy and the other Societies around us we are an independent body but our Fellowship represents all aspects of the culture and heritage professions; many of our Fellows’ posts are supported in part or whole through government funding. We have a substantial number of Fellows in Europe and North America as well as increasing numbers from other parts of the world. The Fellows work as university academics, museum curators, local government officers, conservation architects, publishers, journalists, exhibition designers, heritage managers within, and consultants for, bodies like English Heritage and the National Trust. The Society awards grants to students and scholars for research and contributes to funds for the restoration of the fittings and contents of churches. We welcome scholars of all kinds to our Library of 100,000 books and substantial collections. Through long-term loans and major exhibitions both in London and at regional museums we display our collections to the widest possible public; a recent tour of some of the Society’s holdings was funded by the Heritage Lottery and was seen by more than 130,000 people. We own and run for public benefit William Morris’s house at Kelmscott Manor. We are at the front line of consultation about all matters to do with heritage both on a national and international scale and through lectures and conferences provide a unique venue to bring all interested parties together.

1. Cuts in government and local government spending have an immediate impact on the range of services that heritage organisations can sustain but not only within those organisations. They mean closure of spaces, objects and facilities formerly accessible to the widening public that has been achieved in recent years. But beyond this, a great deal of the sharing of knowledge and expertise between different arms of the state-funded sector and between the state and the private sector is done on the basis of quid pro quo arrangements which may cost no more than basic travel and subsistence but prove of immense value to training programmes of all kinds (placements for university students at museums and galleries, for example). Cuts will mean gaps in provision, severing of ties and the denial of co-operation by colleagues hard-pressed with increased responsibilities.

2. For a generation or so now, we have experienced systems of tendering for essential work on conservation and restoration that have loosened core existing expertise within heritage organisations and damaged the internal memory of what work has been carried out. Long-term knowledge of buildings, paintings and objects of all kinds ensures care and preservation for the national benefit now and in the future. It may well now be a good time to pool resources towards the creation of more groups of expertise (stonemasons, painting and film conservators, workers in wood and iron, etc) that provide a common service to a range of national bodies where some ‘memory’ of earlier work is retained and documented. The recent problems of the National Trust for Scotland (the Reid Report of 9th August 2010) brought forth a number of speculations about ‘branding’ that part of the U.K. by bringing together expertise, marketing, price structures for admission etc. across the Trust, Historic Scotland and a range of regional bodies wherever heritage is displayed and offered to the public. It is important to say however that this should remain the pooling of applied expertise and co-operation; our national resources are significant not only for what they are but the avenues historically by which they came into being. We must preserve the physical separation of collections whilst bringing together the means to service and protect them.

3. We have generally welcomed news that there will be more funds for heritage projects from the Heritage Lottery Fund in the immediate future. Many of us who have participated in the processes of application have welcomed in the past help and support in the application process but have noted how heavily weighted that process is at the front end, with ever-growing forms and size of documentation and an increasing number of HLF officers to deal with. Some truly wonderful Lottery-funded projects have succeeded in their primary goals but have been incapable of being sustained beyond the initial phase because national (or more often local) bodies do not have the funds to maintain the provision through staffing, IT servicing and physical maintenance into the long-term future.

4. Philanthropy and business already play a considerable role in arts and heritage support. This has tended however, in recent times, and quite understandably, to have contributed to those aspects of the field where individuals and companies have the opportunity to showcase their donation; for example, exhibitions determined in content and style by the promoting of a company image and geared towards glamorous events that provide business opportunities. In some cases of major exhibitions the donation paid for barely a tenth of the costs but dominated the agenda of presentation, marketing and even education and outreach. In terms of government incentives through tax remission, looking at whether the private sector can help core responsibilities (cataloguing museum collections, conservation, maintenance of buildings) could be a way forward to encouraging donation to a wider range of things for which national bodies have to take responsibility. Professionals working for those organisations are capable of thinking imaginatively to make those streams of income equally a showcase for the generosity of donors. VAT relief on the work needed for conservation of historic buildings, for example, has long been something that many have called for.

September 2010