A little less talk

Sharon Heal, 19.01.2016
How serious is the prime minister about public funding for culture?
The new year started with a bang for the MA with the launch of our annual Cuts Survey.

We’ve been monitoring the impact of funding reductions on museums for five years now and this year the publication of the survey result has come at a crunch time for some museums.

All eyes are on Lancashire to see if intensive lobbying, advocacy and public campaigning can prevent the closure of five museums.

If the museums close it will be a huge loss for the public in the North West and there are concerns about the important collections and buildings held there that form a vital part of our nation’s history.

Local authorities are under enormous pressure but the speed of decision-making in Lancashire is militating against alternative solutions being found.

An appeal on the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce’s website is asking for “savvy, local businesses, or heritage enthusiasts with lots of spare time” to come forward with expressions of interest to run the museums.

But it is unlikely that such saviours will be found in the short time allocated – expressions of interest have to be in by 27 March and it looks like the decision about the future of the museums will be made well before that deadline expires as the budget is expected to be set by 4 February.

The MA used the media interest around the publication of its survey to highlight the plight of museums such as those in Lancashire but also to flag up the danger of future cuts.

Several local authorities are projecting that their spend on culture will be zero, or as near as dammit, by 2018 onwards. Although that is worryingly soon it does give slightly more time for museums under threat to think of alternative solutions and for national agencies and government to intervene.

Last week the prime minster said he was a passionate supporter of public funding for the arts.

“Culture should never be a privilege; it is a birth right that belongs to us all. But the truth is there are too many young people in Britain who are culturally disenfranchised.

“And if you believe in publicly-funded arts and culture – as I passionately do, then you must also believe in equality of access, attracting all, and welcoming all.”

I applaud that. But what we need now is action as well as words.

Links and downloads

Cuts Survey 2015