Our statement on Scotland’s museums at risk due to Covid-19

Scotland’s representative bodies for museums (Museums Association; Association of Independent Museums; Industrial Museums Scotland; Scottish Museums Federation; University Museums in Scotland) are jointly warning of the danger that many of the country’s museums may not survive the Covid-19 crisis.

Museums are concerned that the combined impact of loss of earned income, limited emergency support and local government cuts could be fatal – a concern that is backed up by research from Historic Environment Scotland that has found that within the heritage sector museums face the highest risk of closure.

Since the beginning of lockdown Museums Galleries Scotland has delivered some small grant assistance to the sector. The Scottish Government has provided £4m of additional investment into the sector in the form of the Museums Recovery and Resilience Fund.

This funding has been welcomed by the sector and will provide invaluable help to those that successfully apply.

However, the fund is only able to support independent museums, who make up around half of the sector; and the total amount allocated in funding makes up only a small proportion of the total £97m that the Scottish Government was allocated by the Treasury to support culture during the coronavirus crisis.

As a result, there is now considerable concern that civic museums, funded by local authorities or by ALEOs, are at particular risk. These museums have lost significant income during lockdown and, as non-statutory services, will have to contend with a challenging situation as local government finances come under continued pressure.

Likewise, pressures on higher education income has put university museums in a very vulnerable position.

Our museums add enormous value to the cultural life of the nation. The sector is key to Scotland’s reputation as an international tourist destination as well as playing an irreplaceable role within local communities.

The loss of any our museums would damage our social and economic recovery from Covid-19; it would also cause long-lasting damage to our cultural heritage and to the communities these institutions serve.

We ask that the Scottish Government:

  • Fill the funding gap faced by museums not eligible for the Recovery and Resilience Fund
  • Work with the museum sector to consider how civic museums can be funded to ensure they can remain open in the long term
  • Work with higher education institutions and the Scottish Funding Council to ensure continued funding and a sustainable future for university museums

Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, said: “We are deeply concerned about the plight of civic museums in Scotland. Local authorities are in a difficult position because of the extra costs associated with dealing with Covid-19 and the prospect of future cuts to their budgets.

“We are already hearing of major local authorities that are considering not funding their museums and galleries because they are non-statutory services. We are deeply concerned that some museums will not be able to reopen after lockdown.

“Museums are vital civic spaces and can play a critical role in rebuilding and recovery with their communities – but they need funding to be able to do that.”

Duncan Dornan, Head of Glasgow Museums, said: “Museums are fundamental to our understanding of who we are and the world around us. It’s what builds profound connections between museums, the collections they hold and generation after generation of visitors.

“The potential, permanent loss of any museum across Scotland immediately diminishes all our opportunities to learn and express ourselves.

“Any measure which directly supports museums everywhere will allow these loved and appreciated institutions to continue to work in all our interests and save many from the worst of outcomes.”

Jacky MacBeath, Convenor of University Museums in Scotland, said: “Museums, our collections and, most importantly, our activities engage, challenge and give context to contemporary society. They allow us to reflect on and learn from our shared past, reinforcing community identity and providing us with lessons for the future.

“Without ongoing support for the full range of museums contributing to the unique cultural landscape of Scotland, the sharing and use of our collections for the benefit of our communities is at risk.”

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