Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Renaissance in the Regions (South West) (arts 177)

Renaissance is the Museums Libraries and Archives Council funded programme to transform regional museums in England. Renaissance South West is a partnership of five museum services that include: Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, Plymouth City Museum and the Royal Cornwall Museum based in Truro.

There are 260 museums in the South West, the largest of the English regions in area. They serve a population of just over 5 million as well as a national and international audience. Together they care for, interpret and develop a rich collection reflecting not only the natural and human history of the region but many aspects of significance to the world-wide community.

§ Access T o Collections
With the help of Renaissance funding, Collections have become more welcoming and offer increasingly imaginative forms of display, adopting a more open approach to ensure that their collections reflect many different cultures and experiences.

§ Economic Growth
Museums are key contributors to the economy, having an annual economic impact of over £2 billion. Renaissance South West Hub museums have leveraged additional funds (both revenue and capital expenditure) of over £20.1 millions in 2006-7 to support their developments. Over £1.4m has been directly invested in projects in the South West museum community.

§ L e arnin g
Museums have a unique role to play in delivering the nation’s educational priorities at all levels. They can also offer the opportunity for social and collaborative learning. The Renaissance in the Regions programme has notably supported work with young people, but museums have also made enormous strides in increasing informal learning opportunities for adult learning.

§ Sustainable Communities
Renaissance is opening up museums’ potential to develop even greater connections with our diverse communities. Engaging with local people is not only bringing new audiences into museums but also taking museums out into the community.


All the above mentioned achievements of Renaissance South West risk being severely damaged to varying degrees by the speculated cuts in public sector spending. This submission is a response to the issues identified by the Committee.

1. 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:

Between 1998-2008, Creative industries, of which museums constitute a key part, contributed £4,240m (Gross Value Added) to the overall economy of the South West region. The Bristol based, internationally acclaimed, Aardman Animation, creators of Wallace and Gromitt, epitomises the importance of Creative indistries to the region.

As well as being the most rural region within the Renaissance programme, the South West is also a region with a heavy reliance on public sector employment. Having already offered substantial ‘efficiencies’ museums in the region are not in a position to carry on delivering to broader local and national agendas, one of the biggest successes of the Renaissance programme. Museums professed aim to be accessible to all and to meet the needs of the communities they seek to serve will be enormously compromised. A cut in their budgets will inevitably lead to prioritisation of their resources and capabilities and therefore, a considerable dilution of their cultural offer. As well as shorter opening hours, many museums will be forced to abandon those programmes and initiatives, which have successfully addressed agendas such as learning and community cohesion, to name just two. Many museums will face having to mothball their valuable collections, imperilling their ability to effectively address the needs of their visitors.

Thus for instance, the enormous strides made by Plymouth Museum and Art gallery building a solid foundation for their much lauded community engagement and education work through their ‘Museums in Transit’ programme will be seriously undermined by the cuts. A cut in the budgets of schools, as in many other areas of public sector, will make it increasingly difficult for young people to visit museums. This will then be exacerbated by the double whammy of museums having to cut back on their education and outreach programmes.

In a region where tourism is the mainstay of the economy the South West’s museums play a pivotal role in making it an attractive destination for national and international visitors. It is therefore highly likely that the cuts will impact on the region’s museums’ ability to contribute to the tourism economy at a time when the government is exhorting us to sell Britain for its unique cultural heritage. Partners within Renaissance SW have major initiatives that have the potential to make a huge contribution to the region’s tourism offer. Bristol Museums and Art gallery are opening their new state of the Museum of Bristol at M Shed to the public in 2011. Part of a major local economical regeneration of the key waterfront area of the city, this project funded through a variety of public sources, will serve to vastly expand the cultural offer of the museum locally by delivering on the key ‘Sense of Place’ agenda as well as raising its national and international profile. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter has been undergoing a major renovation that will vastly improve its ability to meet local and regional needs as well as contributing the vital tourism economy of the area. It must be emphasised that both projects have received very substantial Renaissance funding. In the larger scheme of things it has to be said that, as is evident from the achievements of Renaissance SW, museums in the region have been quite adept at using small amounts of money to grease the wheels of ‘Big Society’ ideas. As Eleanor Moore, South West Museum Skills Coordinator, put it: ‘What is a Museums Development officer if not a ‘Big Society’ community facilitator’?

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

Developing and embedding a culture and ethos of partnership working is widely regarded as one of the biggest successes of the Renaissance programme. Renaissance funding has enabled museums within the partnership to leverage large amounts of funding that would otherwise not have been possible. It is this that has enabled Sub-regional partnership working is in fact a particular strand of the Renaissance SW business plan. Plymouth’s Visual Arts Consortium which enables partners in the cultural sector to work together on joint projects, shared marketing and education is just one example of how museums in the region have become increasingly smart in using collections as resources for activities. But while developing partnerships with those in the cultural sector is perhaps to be expected, museums have also excelled in developing mutually beneficial relationships with non-sectoral bodies. There is today, a far greater understanding of the need to link with broader local and national agendas. As Hilary Bracegirdle, Director, the Royal Cornwall Museum, puts it: ‘Museums today understand the language of local government and its priorities. I can now go any meeting of the local authority and connect what the museum does to broader agendas. It is this that has allowed museums to think strategically and put users at the forefront of what we do’. With its particular emphasis on partnership working, Renaissance has ensured that museums in the region are also on the forefront of the shared services agenda of local and national government. Nevertheless, the museums community is continually exploring ways of further sharing of resources and expertise. As Julie Finch, Director, Bristol Museums and Art gallery puts it: ‘A key part of the future thinking will revolve around having shared community team and education teams for arts, museums and libraries’.

3. What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable:

Even though their models of governance and business planning vary, museums within the Renaissance partnership in the South West, like their counterparts elsewhere, rely on local investment in museums and heritage. The term ‘subsidy’ can also be seen as a bit of a misnomer in this context. As with the rest of public sector, museums are expected to deliver specific outcomes, linked to local, regional and national priorities. In the round then, ‘public subsidy’ for museums, as with arts and culture generally, is as widely accepted principle in Britain as it is for the National Health Service, for instance. That being said though, a particular emphasis of the Renaissance programme has been to enable museums to look at broadening their commercial activities. The planned openings of both the M Shed in Bristol and the RAAM in Exeter, have placed a particular emphasis on generating income from commercial on site activities. A key focus for the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum is to begin to reduce its reliance on public sector funding, to diversify and increase its income base, reduce its expenditure and build its financial sustainability. This is being achieved through its business transformation project.

As part of their efforts to ensure sustainability and broaden their funding streams, museums in the region have of course been at the forefront of exploring various models of governance of which achieving trust status is one of the most popular. But no matter how entrepreneurial museums are in exploring new sources of funding, the requirement of public funding in order to meet professional standards cannot be wished away. It is to be noted though, that becoming a trust is not to be seen as a panacea for the financial issues facing museums in the current financial climate.

Bristol has established a Development Trust to support fundraising for the service and undertake bidding to Trusts and Foundations in line with the Charities Commission edict, the trust also provides a vehicle for fundraising to the private sector that is not totally associated with a local authority in its behaviour.

In addition, the combination of local authority funding, Renaissance in the Regions funding through MLA and Heritage Lottery Funding has created viable projects across the SW region from new temporary and permanent exhibitions to wholesale capital projects at Exeter and RAMM, the combined funding has fostered excellence, innovative thinking, contribution to place shaping and raised profile of the SW region culturally.

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

Renaissance in the Regions continues to be one of best examples of national planning, regional delivery through local government structures. Flexibility of planning and delivery is in fact one of key requisites of the current system. However, it is felt by some that a ‘light touch’ is required greater ease of planning and delivery.

Flexibility of planning and delivery was one of the key requisites in Renaissance at the beginning; it is perhaps a mark of its importance at all levels of the sector, right up to DCMS, that central controls have become a stultifying feature of Renaissance. Trust in local knowledge and competence, monitored with a light touch would return gratifying levels of creativity and initiative to what remains a great programme.

What is important to bear in mind is that it is difficult to meet the aims of ‘Big Society’ without funding relative to the level of deprivation. There is a danger of Local Enterprise Partnerships being drawn up without reference to culture. It is not possible to have a vibrant tourism economy without culture being linked to local strategies. There is a strong feeling among some partners though that revenue, as opposed to project funding, needs to be part of a future distribution system.

5. The impact of recent changes to DCMS arms-length bodies - in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA):

The abolition of the MLA poses key challenges to the museums profession. The maintenance of national minimum standards for museums accreditation and advocacy are two aspects of the MLA’s work that need to be addressed in the wake of its abolition. The need for a national museums body to ‘bat’ on behalf of the sector is universally felt to be desirable. Nevertheless, museums have to look at he broader picture where new ways of working may well offer new opportunities to broaden their offer. Nevertheless, in the absence of any clarity about where the functions of the MLA may sit, dilution of standards is seen as a real threat.

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

The US model of philanthropy seems to exercise a particular hold on the imagination of politicians in Britain. While there are many commendable features of the American system, it is often forgotten that their public museums too are currently experiencing enormous financial difficulties. It is also to be remembered that what works for a major museum in New York or Los Angeles does not necessarily work in Des Moines, Ohio. It takes a long time and changes in tax laws to establish the sort of philanthropic culture of ‘giving’ that exists in the US. Britain, with its particular concentration of national cultural assets in London, has a poor record of regional museums benefiting from private donations and philanthropy. Beside, as key business leaders have publicly expressed to the government, private giving should not be seen as an alternative to proper public funding. Philanthropists, by and large will only invest in museums, which are sustainable and successful in terms of their local and national funding sources and endowments.

September 2010