From a whisper to a roar 

Sharon Heal, 27.02.2015
We must put museums on the radar of politicians
In my previous blog I asked if anyone was prepared to step up and forge a strategy for museums and funding in the UK. To which one of you quickly quipped “No” in the comments box.

But I sense there is some movement in the sector, and from politicians, and an increasing realisation that something has to be done.

The MA’s president David Anderson is speaking in a debate about the future of museums at the Wallace Collection on 8th March and I have been asked to contribute to a panel discussion on the crisis in regional museums at the Courtauld Institute on 18th March.

Meanwhile the Royal Society for the Arts is hosting an event about the idea of a new Cultural Contract, and the Creative Industries Federation is holding a number of cultural hustings around the UK.

It was at one of these events earlier this week that the leader of the opposition Ed Miliband made his first major speech about culture and the arts. That in itself was significant.

He spoke about widening access, strengthening cultural education, and putting arts policy at the heart of government policy

There was also a commitment to the principles of rebalancing cultural funding  - if not much detail of how this might be done.

It will be interesting to see what mentions arts, culture and museums get, if any, in the party manifestos. Even if there’s no reference to museums apart from the seemingly sacred cow of free entry then we must make sure that the debate continues and that we put museums on the radar of politicians of all shades.

I rather like the Museum Advocacy Day that the Alliance of American Museums runs. Perhaps we should adopt something similar here?

The Museums Association will be working with the National Museum Directors’ Council and others on an advocacy campaign for the sector and I’m interested in your views on what we should be saying and to who.

We have to start telling politicians at all levels how life-changing and amazing museums are. And what we will lose if they are taken away.

Comments

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Oliver Green
MA Member
05.03.2015, 19:22
It's a bit ironic to be discussing the regional museums crisis in the comfortable London surroundings of the Courtauld!

There's little point campaigning about the social value of museums in the run up to a general election when politicians of all parties are only interested in making political capital. Miliband may talk about the importance of the arts but Balls has already said a Labour government would not reverse the recent cuts. The Tories only talk up the arts when it occasionally suits them. Osborne likes classical music so he's falling over Simon Rattle's insistence that London needs a new concert hall, and of course Boris is all for that because it will boost London's status even further.

Neither of them would back it in the regions unless it was in Manchester where Osborne's 'northern powerhouse' funding deal (Devo-Manc) is being played out, but only in the NW. Meanwhile Birmingham, the largest English local authority, is slashing the budget for its swanky new library.

Museums are but a tiny part of this bigger battle to get Westminster to devolve more funding of all kinds to the regions, which none of the major political parties really want to do. As local authorities are forced to cut their budgets to the bone, culture is just falling off the edge and seen as unimportant.

Here in Oxfordshire it has been estimated that within a few years the council's entire remaining budget will be spent on adult social services.

In the regions Manchester stands out as the only place where a Labour local authority has seen the benefits of playing the culture card as part of their city's cool image and cut a deal with the Tory government which will bring it control over Treasury money for health, transport and much else, but only because it suits Osborne with his Cheshire seat to do this. There's no deal on the table for Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle or anywhere else.

People in the regional arts world need to get real on this: it's not a cultural issue at all about 'fair' funding outside London. It's not even an economic issue. At the moment it's strictly political.
Anonymous
02.03.2015, 18:55
Long overdue a discussion, debate over the crisis in regional museum services, a lot of them are in pretty bad shape. I work for a large local authority museum service, that is in receipt of ACE funding, in case anybody was wondering. I would be interested to know if other readers here think that there are heritage assets that are too important/complex/large to be under local authority governance. If so, is this possibly a point of discussion at the Courtauld Institute panel discussion on the regional museum crisis?
Trudie Cole
MA Member
Learning & Access Manager, Poole Museum Service
02.03.2015, 14:38
Perhaps it's not so much about us shouting about the benefits of museums and culture, but getting our audiences to speak up. How many voters will tackle wannabe MPs about museums when their doors are knocked on? I think our campaigning must address the highest level, but also reach out to our communities to be our advocates too.