Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Museums Association (arts 126)



· Museums and galleries are a success story, with refurbished buildings, appealing displays and lively events. Public participation has increased significantly. Improvements have been supported by increased DCMS revenue funding, particularly for Renaissance and free admission, along with capital investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund, regional development agencies, local authorities, charitable trusts and generous organisations and individuals.

· Museums Association research shows cuts in funding will significantly reduce the quality and quantity of public services provided by museums and galleries. Displays will deteriorate, there will be fewer activities, opening hours will reduce, expensively improved buildings will not run to their full potential, and there will be less work with schools and to widen access. Attendances are likely to fall, with a negative impact on the wider economy.

· Museum collections are a significant public asset, built up over centuries thanks to the generosity of past generations. Spending cuts will lead to their under-use and neglect as collections are relegated to stores because of fewer redisplays and exhibitions, and reductions in other programmes to share collections.

· Some local authorities have transferred management of museums to charitable trusts. There are successful joint local authority museum services. However, cuts will make museums more inward looking and less likely to seek out partnerships and collaboration.

· An increased allocation to the Heritage Lottery Fund is welcome but will not compensate for cuts anticipated elsewhere. Museums and galleries fear confusion and harder access to funds if HLF is amalgamated with other bodies.

· The abolition of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council leaves many questions unanswered. There are concerns about the impact of the abolition on museums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

· Alternative sources of funding are hard to see. Philanthropists have supported museums and galleries since they were established in the 18th and 19th centuries, but this has usually been with gifts of collections and buildings and funds for collecting and building, rather than other activities. Admission charges significantly reduce attendance. Selling collections to generate income is not usually an option (although has been in exceptional circumstances).

(a) Background

1. The Museums Association represents and supports museums and people who work for them. It has over 6,000 members including institutions ranging from large national museums to small volunteer-run museums. Established over a century ago in 1889, the Museums Association is a charity and receives no regular government funding.

2. The Museums Association leads thinking on many issues in museums including improving the use of collections, sustainability and workforce development. It publishes Museums Journal, the sector’s main magazine, organises the major annual museums conference and prepares the sector’s Code of Ethics, which underpins the national accreditation scheme for museums.

3. The Museums Association welcomes this timely enquiry and would be pleased to assist the committee. We are able to provide additional information about many of the points made in this submission.

The success of museums and galleries

4. Museums and galleries have been transformed over the past 15 years. Buildings are refurbished, displays are refreshed and appeal to a wide range of visitors and there are lively programmes of events and exhibitions. This has been made possible through the skills, experience and talent of people who work for museums and new sources of funding, particularly capital funding from the national lottery and increased revenue support from DCMS, notably for free admission to national museums and for Renaissance funding for major regional museums.

5. Continued local authority funding has played a vital role, as has ring-fenced funding for university museums from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Investment has increased audiences

6. There has been a steady increase in public participation in museums and galleries. In 2009/10, 46.7% of adults in England visited a museum, gallery or archive, a continuation of the steady upward trend since 2006/07, when 41.5% attended. In the same period, the proportion of 11-15 year olds visiting increased from 54.7% to an impressive 66.8% - over two thirds. (Source – DCMS, Taking Part: The National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport Adult and Child Report 2009/10)

7. Generally, increased attendances have been stimulated by a growing attention to audiences, capital investment in new buildings and displays, increased spending on programming, particularly from Renaissance in the Regions, and free admission at national museums. Attendance at Renaissance-funded museums has increased by over 40% since the programme started in 2002. (Source: Museums Association survey; see below) Since 2001, attendance has increased by 128% at DCMS-funded museums that used to charge. (Source:

A mixed economy based on public support

8. The UK has a successful mixed economy of funding for museums, in which self-generated income and private patronage are built on adequate levels of public funding. Most national, local authority and university museums do not charge for admission and get the majority of their income for running costs from public sources. Public museums operate successfully as free-to-use public services, enhancing what they are able to do by generating additional income from sources such as retail, catering and corporate hire. Income from these sources had probably been increasing until the recession, which had a particularly bad effect on sources such as venue hire. However, self-generated income rarely forms a significant part of a public museum’s general running costs.

9. There are also many successful ‘independent’ museums, registered charities that often (but not always) charge for admission and have a more diverse range of income sources. However, many independent museums receive some of their funding from local authorities (and from Renaissance in the Regions in the case of a few larger independent museums). Many independent museums are reported as saying ‘it was a struggle to keep their organisations going’. (Source: Business Models and Financial Instruments for the museums, libraries and archives sector: Review of the Literature and Survey Findings, MLA, 2008)

(c) The impact of spending cuts

10. A relatively small amount of museums’ expenditure is available for public-facing activities such as exhibitions, redisplays, education work, events and activities. This is because museums tend to have high fixed costs for the long-term preservation of often fragile and extensive collections. They require front-of-house and security staff so that they can open safely to the public. Many are also responsible for important listed buildings, which are expensive to operate and maintain.

11. These fixed costs are largely unavoidable, so cuts in funding have a disproportionate effect on the public services provide by museums. There is real fear of a return to the days of empty galleries with leaky roofs and dusty, tired displays.

Survey of impact of cuts

12. In summer 2010 the Museums Association surveyed major regional museums in England about the impact of a 25% cut in their Renaissance funding.

100% of respondents see a cut in Renaissance funding leading to a reduction in public-facing services such as education and learning programmes, temporary exhibitions, events and work with hard to reach audiences.

Over half the respondents predicted cuts in Renaissance will have an impact on the ability of museums to lever additional external funding.

Over 40 % of museums will reduce opening hours and consider introducing or increasing charges while a third of museums will be forced to close sites or parts of sites.

There will be a significant drop in services for schools. The majority of respondents predicted that without Renaissance-funded education staff, school visits will increasingly be un-facilitated and charges are likely to increase.

Everyone who responded to the survey expressed concern at the possible loss of Museum Development Officers (MDOs), who currently provide advice and guidance to smaller museums. They help to raise standards, which respondents fear will drop if MDO support goes. MDOs also assist smaller museums with fundraising

All respondents identified the increased partnership working that has resulted from Renaissance funding as beneficial, delivering some of the most innovative work. All feared that this activity will be significantly curtailed by cuts, making museums more inward looking, with smaller museums more isolated.

(Source: Museums Association Renaissance Survey, September 2010, www.museumsassociation/about/renaissance-survey)

Audiences will fall, reducing economic impact; elitism will grow

13. More generally, expensively improved buildings will not run to their full potential and work to increase audiences, such as late opening, will be curtailed. Reduction in the amount and quality of the work of museums will discourage cultural and heritage tourism, so reducing economic impact. International visitors to the UK’s museums, galleries and built heritage spend £2.6 billion per year; UK day visitors spend £4.2 billion. (Source: Heritage Lottery Fund and VisitBritain, Investing in Success: Heritage and the UK Tourism Economy, 2010, p.9)

14. Cuts may force some currently free museums to introduce admission charges. Typical experience is that the introduction of admission charges at a museum reduces audiences by around 40% (source:, so reducing the museum’s benefits for the wider economy. Since the introduction of universal free access to national museums in December 2001, visits to the nationals in England that used to charge for entrance have more than doubled, increasing by 128%. (Source: ) Fewer resources to develop new audiences mean that audiences are likely to narrow and come from a smaller segment of society, threatening to make museums more elitist.

15. Reduced funding will also set back efforts (such as the Museums Association’s Diversify scheme) to widen the range of people in the museum workforce, which is not representative of the wider population in terms of race and disability. For example, only around 4-6% of collections jobs are held by people from minority-ethnic backgrounds, whereas the working-age population of England is over 12% minority-ethnic. (Source: Maurice Davies and Lucy Shaw, Measuring the ethnic diversity of the museum workforce, Cultural Trends forthcoming, September 2010)

16. Museum staff are generally poorly paid for the expected levels of skills and knowledge; cuts are likely to exacerbate this. (Source Museums Association, Pay in Museums, 2004 and Museums Association, Salary Guidelines 2009)

(d) Collections - a great public asset under used and under threat

17. The nation’s museum collections form a significant public asset, thanks to the generosity of past generations. There are great collections, and great museums, throughout the UK. Museum do far more than simply acquire, preserve and display things; they use collections to engage with audiences of all ages and backgrounds, on- and off-site to bring inspiration, learning and enjoyment. Increased funding has enabled museums to improve the use and accessibility of collections, bringing them out of store and sharing them more widely, so that more people can see them in more places.

18. Over the past five years, the Museums Association has encouraged better use of collections. The seminal report Collections for the Future is being followed up with the Effective Collections programme to make better use of stored collections, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

19. In the past 20 years, museums have also done much to raise standards of collections care and enhance the preservation of collections, helped by schemes such as Designation for pre-eminent museum collections housed outside national museums.

Cuts will mothball collections and lead to loss of knowledge

20. The Museums Association’s summer 2010 survey of Renaissance-funded museums shows that cuts threaten work with collections. All respondents to the survey predict a reduction in collections care and access, with collections increasingly stuck in store.

Use of collections will decline; there will be fewer temporary exhibitions, gallery refurbishments, loans or other activities.

There will be fewer staff with the skills to care for collections

There will be a drop in standards, expertise and sector-specific knowledge

Knowledge of collections is threatened by reductions in curatorial staff

(Source: Museums Association Renaissance Survey, September 2010, www.museumsassociation/about/renaissance-survey)

21. This latter point is particularly troubling. It takes years, often decades, to build up knowledge of a collection and museums and galleries now face the prospect of highly knowledgeable staff rapidly losing their jobs, without a clear successor.

22. With funding from the Monument Trust, the Museums Association offers a small number of Monument Fellowships so that recently retired collections specialists can pass on their knowledge to successor staff and the wider museum sector. This time-consuming work needs careful planning and support if knowledge is not to be lost to the museum, to researchers and to wider audiences.

23. In spring 2011 the Museums Association plans to publish guidance on sharing collections knowledge and we hope that museums will make use of this to preserve at least some of the knowledge and experience that would otherwise be lost if expert staff have to leave.

Cuts will reduce access to important collections

24. Funding cuts will make it harder for museums to share their collections. Cuts will set back recent work to build national - regional museum partnerships, which give nationwide audiences improved access to national collections. Similarly, cuts to Renaissance will make it harder for small museums to benefit from the collections and remaining expertise in larger Renaissance-funded regional museums. Collections will be stuck in storage because museums will lend and borrow fewer things, so reducing opportunities for people to see nationally and regionally important collections near to where they live.

(e) Working together

25. Some local authorities have transferred the management of their museums to charitable trusts, often leading to improved public services, and bringing other benefits such as increased income generation. However, experience varies and some museum trusts have had long-term financial problems. In August 2010, Sheffield Museums had to be ‘bailed out’ with increased funding from Sheffield City Council.

26. Joint services may have potential. Colchester and Ipswich recently started running a joint museum service. In some parts of the country, such as Norfolk and Hampshire, there is a long tradition of county and district councils collaborating in service delivery to improve standards and gain economies of scale. Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums is a highly successful joint service. However, our survey suggests that cuts in funding will make museums more inward looking and so less likely to seek out partnerships and collaboration.

(f) Sustainability

27. The Museums Association investigated museums and sustainability in 2008. We suggested that after a highly successful period of growth, museums perhaps should consolidate their work and focus primarily on improving the quality of what they do rather than its quantity. Ambition had made many museums overstretched, often trying to do too much on limited resources and, as noted above, struggling with high fixed costs. (This will of course be exacerbated by funding cuts.) We concluded that to improve their sustainability museums need to think more than a few years ahead. Although museums hold their collections ‘in perpetuity’, they rarely think hard about their long-term purpose. The current absence of a clear policy steer from government (see paragraph 38 below) makes this even harder.

28. Looking at environmental sustainability in particular, we concluded museums could do much to reduce their energy consumption, so reducing running costs as well as reducing carbon emissions. However, they need financial and expert support to become greener. Led by national museums in the UK, museums internationally are rethinking the ways they care for collections to take account of the need to reduce energy use.

(g) The Lottery

29. Proposed increases in lottery funding for heritage are welcome. However, they will not compensate for reductions in funding elsewhere. Furthermore, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is having to consider supporting a higher proportion of project costs as far less partnership funding is now available from other sources, such as regional development agencies. This reduces the number of projects that HLF can support. Furthermore, the previous government reduced heritage-lottery funds, with the result that HLF no longer has the resources to support all the high-quality applications that it receives.

30. Generally HLF is regarded as an intelligent, successful funder. Museums and their audiences have benefited significantly from the requirement to include learning and participation in HLF-funded projects. We also welcome HLF’s growing encouragement for environmental sustainability.

31. The wide range of ‘heritage’ work that HLF funds, and its UK-wide role, means there would be many problems in a merger with English Heritage. Although both organisations have the word ‘Heritage’ in their names, they have very different areas of responsibility. There is a particular concern about the confusion and complexity that would arise if HLF merges with English Heritage, while, as looks likely, national responsibility for museums moves to Arts Council England, itself a lottery distributor, but not responsible for museum lottery funding.

(h) The Abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and other aspects of the funding system

32. There is great uncertainty about the future operation of many of MLA’s valuable functions including Renaissance, designation (of collections of national and international significance in non-national museums) and Museum Development Officer-support for local museums.

33. Renaissance in the Regions has recently been reviewed and there are proposals to change the way it allocates funding to regional museums by giving regular support to a reduced number of ‘core’ museums. We agree that some aspects of the scheme need to change (in particular that funding needs to become less bureaucratic). However, there need to be perhaps 20-30 core museums, rather than the smaller number that is sometimes mentioned. Renaissance’s encouragement of networking and collaboration is beginning to bear fruit and should be built on, as it has the potential to lead to more collaboration and sharing of expertise and resources.

34. Other vital MLA functions include:

· accreditation (which sets and assesses standards for museums and has encouraged many improvements in a lightly regulated sector)

· funding for the highly successful Portable Antiquities Scheme,

· Acceptance in Lieu

· aspects of the Government Indemnity Scheme and security advice

· the MLA/V&A purchase fund

· the PRISM fund for collecting or conserving objects related to science, technology and industry

and support for organisations such as:

· the Collections Trust

· Culture24

35. Most of these functions have an impact beyond England, supporting the work of museums in Wales in particular and in some cases in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is important that this continues in decisions about their future operations. If not, there is the possibility of wasteful duplication.

36. It looks most likely that national-level responsibility for museum will pass to Arts Council England. This has the potential to work well as long as museums have adequate status in the organisation (at least equivalent to areas such as theatre and music) and as long as the arts council has adequate resources to continue key MLA functions.

37. To be successful, policy for museums has needed to be determined jointly by MLA and DCMS (working with the sector itself and key partners such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Museums Association). However, DCMS and MLA have not consistently worked together on policy and strategy; we hope the new arrangements will mark an improvement.

38. There is a particular policy gap at the moment, with no indication from government or its agencies about their desired priorities for museums. This is particularly unfortunate when museums are being asked to propose expenditure reductions, as it is quite unclear what government thinks should be reduced and what should be protected. Crudely, and at the most basic level, should museums give priority to improving collections care and preservation or to increasing audiences? Does the government consider scholarly research or schools’ programmes to be the most important?

(i) Other sources of income: philanthropy, admission changes and the sale of collections


39. Museums and galleries have always benefited from philanthropy, but this has been primarily for collecting or buildings. There is a long tradition of private collectors giving their collections to museums, and occasionally founding new museums or paying for extended buildings, but there is little tradition of contributing to endowments or paying for long-term running costs in other ways.

40. A small number of museums have recently raised extensive amounts from private sources for capital development but these have overwhelmingly been major museums in London, with some notable exceptions such as the Ashmolean in Oxford and, outside England, Kelvingrove in Glasgow. Smaller museums, especially those outside London, appear to have relatively limited likelihood of raising large amounts of private money, even for buildings and collecting.

41. All types and sizes of museum regularly raise funds from charitable trusts (and the lottery) for capital developments, acquisitions and special programmes such as additional educational and community projects. However, only rarely do these sources contribute significantly to core running costs.

Admission charges

42. Some museums, particularly independent museums, have always charged for admission but this is not often a sensible option for public museums. As noted above (paragraph 14) introducing admission charges typically reduces the number of visits by 40%. This usually increases the amount of public spending per visit, so reducing the efficiency of public spending.

Sale of Collections

43. When disposing of items from their collections, museums follow the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics. After extensive consultation, the Museums Association changed its rules on the sale of collections in 2007. The new rules permit financially motivated disposal of collections in certain exceptional circumstances. In particular, the income from the sale must not be for short-term reasons but has to provide sustainable long-term public benefit (such as contributing to an endowment) and the items being disposed of have to be outside the museum’s core collection. So far, only two museums have disposed of collections in this way: The Watts Gallery in Surrey and the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. Both of these are independent charitable trusts. It should be noted that legislation restricts the powers of disposal of some museums, particularly nationals.

44. Sale of collections is not likely to be a source of income for many museums. It is certainly not a solution to short-term funding difficulties and always risks damaging public trust in museums and deterring future donations of collections and other forms of philanthropy.

The Museums Association would be pleased to assist the committee. We are able to provide additional information about many of the points made in this submission.

September 2010