David Fleming (L); Simon Wallis (R)

Head to head

David Fleming; Simon Wallis, Issue 112/11, p21, 01.11.2012
Should we expose the impact of cuts on museums?
David Fleming is the director of National Museums Liverpool and Simon Wallis is the director of the Hepworth Wakefield

Dear Simon

I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would think it’s useful to the museum sector for us to keep quiet about the funding cuts that are affecting so many of us. And even if we tried to keep quiet, it’s not possible for the public to be unaware of the cuts: museums are closing, collections are being disposed of, people are losing their jobs.

Publicising the risks to museums may not be likely to achieve an improvement in the funding situation, but surely the public has a right to know what the impact of cuts really is?

Best wishes David

Dear David

I agree entirely. We need to help the public understand clearly and fully the superb return on investment they receive from the work of public museums and galleries.

Our sector has long known how to make the very best use of resources for maximum public benefit. We need to demonstrate consistently what our work achieves, especially as much of it is hidden from wider public view, such as the extensive life-changing learning work we do with schools and community groups.

We need to use the many supportive voices of our audiences as the best form of advocacy.

Best wishes Simon

Dear Simon
 
What worries me, though, is that our sector, unlike many other sectors, appears to be reluctant to talk about the impact that cuts are having, and I don’t know why. Just last week I was driving through Birmingham and I saw a giant, clever roadside sign campaigning against cuts in police funding.

It reminded me that if we’re not prepared to speak up, museums are at risk of going gently into that good night, rather than exciting public concern. If we are as good at life-changing learning work as you say, then why aren’t we telling everyone that this work is at risk?

Best wishes David

Dear David

I think in order to make an effective public impact in conveying the message about the value of our work we need to hear directly from those who have benefitted from it.

All forms of social media offer relatively cheap ways of ensuring that our work can have a consistently high public profile. We need to use the enthusiastic voices of our wide audiences to show the clear public demand for what we do.
We mustn’t appear as if we are simply pleading or asking for handouts. We are asking for an adequate investment against which we demonstrate exceptional measurable returns.

Best wishes Simon

Dear Simon

Ouch! I didn’t realise that explaining the impact of cuts in public funding for providing a public service could be equated with “asking for handouts”!

Nor do I see the value in museums remaining silent about the impact of cuts and waiting for others to speak up. I’m not saying that museums should argue against cuts (that’s a whole other set of issues) but that we should be open about the impacts of cuts, so the public can decide what, if anything, it wants to do about it. Isn’t this the way democracies are supposed to work?

Best wishes David


Dear David

I think we do need to be very wary of how what we are communicating can be seen by the public. I frequently encounter derision and anger from some people over receiving what they see as a “public subsidy” taking money from taxpayers’ pockets for non-essential elitist services.

I think this is an incorrect but understandable perception and we need to overcome it through using the voice of our engaged audiences in the advocacy campaigns we take responsibility for orchestrating. It’s an issue of public perception about the value and results of the social investment in our work.

Best wishes Simon

Comments

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08.11.2012, 01:02
IT'S ALL SO SAD THAT WE CAN LET THIS HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE TO OUR GREAT HERITAGE. CAN'T THE RICH BUY AND OWN THE OBJECTS IN COLLECTIONS AND LEND AND ROTATE THEM AROUND EVERY MUSEUM UP AND DOWN THE LAND TO KEEP THE MUSEUMS OPEN, EVERYBODY THEN SHOULD PAY TO ENTER. IF THE MUSEUMS STILL GO BUST! AT LEAST THE RICH CAN THEN DONATE BACK TO THE CRUMBLING EMPTY BUILDINGS WHEN THE ECONOMY IMPROVES LATER AND THEN ONCE AGAIN THE MUSEUMS RE-OPEN? OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT!