Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Natalie Watson (arts 167)

Summary points

· Continued financial support of the arts and heritage is essential. Funding distribution needs to be secure and less bureaucratic.

· Museums and heritage organisations provide an essential function within communities. They provide a world class provision for learning and enjoyment, which is often free to visit, accessible to all and supports the tourism sector and communities they serve.

· Heritage provision in this country is already heavily subsidised by the free labour of dedicated volunteers. However, professional staff and support functions are vital to maintain standards and organise projects and initiatives that link into government policies, indicators and local targets.

· Grassroot posts such as Museum Development Officers (MDOs) and Conservation Development Officers (CDOs) provide excellent value for money. They work in partnership with a large number of varied organisations, responding to local needs and targets. MDOs and CDOs have a proven track record of using small pots of money to make big impacts.


1. This submission is from myself in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of any organisations I belong to.

2. I am the Community Heritage and Museum Development Officer (MDO) for Somerset. My post is part of a funding partnership between the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (40%), Somerset County Council (40%) and South Somerset District Council (20%).

3. My role is to provide professional advice and support to museums and heritage organisations within Somerset and North Somerset. This support takes the form of providing funding, curatorial and conservation advice, training, project management, publicity, marketing and partnership initiatives. I work closely with district councils, National trust, English Heritage, Tourism departments, MLA, Renaissance, local, regional and national museums and volunteer bureaus.

4. Somerset has 55 museums and heritage organisations and 62 history societies which are all supported by the MOD post. Of these 55 organisations 20 are registered or accredited and I am Curatorial Advisor to 5.

5. The role does not come with a budget so all funding for projects, training and events must be sought externally. Since coming into post in 2007, I have raised £98,565 worth of external funding. This has been used to fund countywide projects such as annual roadshows, touring exhibitions, tourism initiatives, website development, individual museum learning projects and training events.

6. Heritage provision in this country is already heavily subsidised by the free labour of dedicated volunteers. In Somerset alone there are 1463 heritage volunteers, giving an estimated 13,532 hours in an average month with an estimated economic value of £2.36 million per year. 88% of the 55 organisations in the county have volunteer staff, 40% are entirely run by volunteers and 84% of people providing heritage in the county are volunteers. What the county, and indeed the country, get for this staggering figure is an excellent and cheap provision for learning and enjoyment, which is often free to visit, accessible to all and supports the tourism sector.

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;

7. Somerset is a county which has a very high proportion of volunteer run museums and heritage organisations. Many of these are free entry and rely on donations and funding from central and local government for their continued survival. This year alone two museums have closed down because either the annual grant from the local authority has been cut or the peppercorn rents have been hiked dramatically. One museum this year is facing a deficit of £14,000 because of this situation.

8. The sector is already one which struggles financially, with volunteer labour providing the staffing but continued investment is necessary if museums are to continue. Any cuts on a local or national scale is going to impact the museums dramatically. This means they will not be able to develop volunteers skills, put on exhibitions, offer schools and groups facilities for learning, hit local and national target and ultimately open. The wealth of knowledge and learning is in serious danger of being lost forever through underfunding.

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

9. Already in Somerset we have developed partnerships across different organisation and local and national bodies to try and reduce duplication of effort and make economies of scale. I work with district councils, National trust, English Heritage, Tourism departments, MLA, Renaissance, local, regional and national museums and volunteer bureaus in many different areas. MDOs such as myself and other professionals should strive to make partnerships with outside groups and share information more widely.

10. Volunteer bureaus are key contacts for arts and heritage groups and I work closely with the local bureaus as a conduit to make placements in over 60 organisations, cutting down on the duplication of paperwork across the county.

11. Tourism is another key area in which heritage serves and I currently edit and maintain the heritage pages on the counties tourism website. An MLA funded projects has produced tourism information, guidebooks, maps and online itineraries which are hosted by Visit Somerset ( This means that the online information is relevant and up-to-date and again, cuts down on duplication of work between myself and tourism bureau.

12. Skills development is an area in which partnerships are already well developed. The SW federation receives skills development funding from MLA to provide tailored, relevant and free training to heritage workers.

13. As MDO I produce a monthly newsletter of news and information as well as upcoming grants, training and initiatives which is circulated across the region. Information from these groups is filtered and fed through to the volunteer and staff and highlights the importance of the MDO role as a conduit for information sharing.

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

14. The heritage budget is tiny; the return on investment is huge. Public subsidy of arts and heritage should continue and at a level that makes real differences. Small pots of money can go a long way in museums used to ruining on a shoestring and partnership projects managed on a county level by posts such as MDOs give fantastic value for money. The public gets quality educational establishments, places for learning for all ages, perform and essential functions in preserving and promoting heritage and also serve the economic wellbeing of an area by providing jobs, entertainment, tourism and community focus.

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

15. The mechanism with which funding is distributed needs to be reviewed. Funding currently goes through too many bureaucratic layers and should instead be distributed at a grassroots level by those who understand the needs of the local area. MDOs and local authority run heritage services have good contacts with the organisations in their area and understand national frameworks, targets and policies.

16. Currently the model of training being organised and hosted by the SW federation in the SW is an excellent model for how central funds can be distrusted by an independent organisation. We have made considerable saving by using free venues and trainers from our own membership, giving greater value for money whilst maintaining excellent evaluation.

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 MLA provides essential functions for museums and heritage professionals, many of which will need to be maintained by other organisations. Some are provisions which are legal necessities and many others are essential functions that museums would suffer without.

18. Accreditation is a key standard for best practice which encourages museums to strive to develop their collection care and visitor services. Years of hard work have gone into achieving and maintaining accreditation by museums and this cannot now be dropped for cost implications.

19. Training and skills development is also an essential function for an organisation that represents more volunteers than professionally educated staff. Cutting this area with no backup would mean the loss of the skills which make our museums first class establishments and lead to a gradual deterioration in standards. Cutting instantly is a quick fix solution that will cost much more in the long term.

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

20. Relying on businesses and philanthropists for long-term investment in heritage is dangerous and will lead to massive discrepancies in funding. Undoubtedly private giving from these individuals in somewhere such as London will be on a totally different scale to those of Somerset, which is a rural area and comparatively poor county. I believe private giving is a supplement to heritage funding, not a replacement.

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

21. I agree that more private giving could be encouraged by the government but would have concerns about the distribution mechanism. Who would get priority and would we see excess of funding to popular causes such as big museums and specific collections, rather than an equal distribution that would benefit small community museums too?

September 2010