A radical review of Welsh museums

Alistair Brown, 26.08.2015
Government and museums mustn’t ignore the latest report into the sector's health
The Welsh government quietly released its report on local museum provision this week.

The report was commissioned by the Welsh government last year and carried out by and expert team led by the widely respected Haydn Edwards, the vice president of Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales).

It was hoped that the report would have useful recommendations that would apply not only to museums in Wales, but across the UK.

And the report is certainly not short of lessons for the sector. It is unsparing in the depth of its research and the breadth of its recommendations, and there will be few in the sector whose feathers are not ruffled by its account of the state of Wales’ local museums.

Underfunded by government, held back by local authority bureaucracy, under-performing staff, a lack of skills and advocacy, and under-regulated by the Accreditation Scheme… The expert review has so many targets that it almost requires its own pie-chart of disapproval.

This is not to say that the report is unremittingly negative. It paints a varied picture of local authority museums in Wales, with 25% of those sampled performing to a high standard. But almost 50% were operating only at a “passive” standard with little collecting, overflowing stores, and little change to exhibitions.

And a further 10% of institutions are deemed to be operating at an unsustainable “zombie” standard, with no collections management and low levels of visitor satisfaction.

As the report notes: “This picture raises questions about local government commitment to and funding of museums, not least the capacity to recruit and retain appropriate staff, with the skill range needed to take museums forward for Wales.”

How to resolve these problems? The report does contain some useful recommendations, such as the establishment of Collections Wales to help to deal with overflowing stores in local authority museum, and the introduction of a transformation fund for museums crying out for investment in buildings and basic improvements.

But nor does the report shy away from making more difficult and unpalatable recommendations, including the closure of some museums, and the possible introduction of museum charges.

For many, this will make for very uncomfortable reading. But this warts-and-all picture of the sector’s health won’t allow anyone responsible for the museums sector – either inside or outside of museums themselves – to say they didn’t know what was going on.

After all, the report reminds us that: “In the midst of all this are the people of Wales who deserve greater reassurance of the care of their histories. In many instances, the wealth of collections relating to Wales and the world, collected in the name of the people of Wales, are at risk.”

Comments

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Tony Butler
MA Member
Executive Director, Derby Museums Trust
28.08.2015, 09:15
This is a pretty damning report, but I wouldn't call its recommendations radical - closures and admission charges are hardly creative solutions. Welsh museums need more autonomy, less interference from government (national and local), ability to retain income they earn and the space to experiment with new models such as community ownership.

I began my career, as a volunteer in a Welsh museum. They have collections which are unique and are closely linked to landscape and community. Their greatest assets are local people who cherish the institutions and heritage.

This report needs to be turned on its head - it should be a rallying point for communities but all I can see is top down, statist targets.
Anonymous
MA Member
27.08.2015, 10:32
Both Wales and Scotland were vaunted for having a nation-wide museums strategy. But no strategy can help if there is no money
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Partner, Museum Consultancy
26.08.2015, 16:41
Reflecting on this report makes me realise how beneficial Renaissance has been for all sorts of museums in England. Obviously there are some duffers, but the situation is far better it seems to be in Wales. I get the sense things are pretty grim in Scotland and N Ireland, too. We have a lot to thank Stuart Davies, Matthew Evans and their colleagues for. And that often ghastly New Labour lot, don't forget them!
Anonymous
26.08.2015, 15:38
Unfortunately, the guiding principles of Welsh museum management at the local level are nepotism and cronyism. There will never be any improvement until this is addressed.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Partner, Museum Consultancy
26.08.2015, 16:38
Blimey, anonymous ( and justifiably so). You make Wales sound like Sicily...



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