Redressing funding skew will take time - Museums Association

Redressing funding skew will take time

What has changed since it was revealed that the capital dominates ACE funding? By Patrick Steel
Patrick Steel
Four months on from the publication of Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, a report that found per capita funds for England distributed by Arts Council England (ACE) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are heavily skewed towards London, what has changed?

Christopher Gordon, one of the report’s authors, says the issue has now moved into wider commentary about future government policy, with a select committee inquiry into the work of the arts council, a Commons debate on regional arts and cultural funding, and mention of the report in a Lords debate on arts and cultural organisations last month.

But Gordon, like Museums Association (MA) president David Anderson (see box), thinks that the public response from cultural institutions has been mixed, perhaps because many are applying to ACE for Major Partner Museum or national portfolio organisation funding.

At November’s MA conference, ACE chairman Peter Bazalgette said his organisation was working to redress the imbalance, but should be judged on it in “a couple of years”.

ACE made a step in this direction in January when it announced that it would increase the Major Partner Museum budget from 2015 to allow for a greater geographical spread, alongside an emphasis on geography in the funding criteria for national portfolio organisations.

An analysis of the impact of ACE’s funding was due to be published as Museums Journal went to press. This will look at factors such as the value of awards and spend per head in core cities.

The spotlight cast on the issue is long overdue but welcome, says Hilary Wade, the director of Tullie House in Carlisle. She adds that “nothing is going to change immediately” and local authority and independent museums in the regions remain under “tremendous financial pressure”.

Alex Walker, the head of arts and heritage at Preston City Council, points out that the report highlights only one element of a “triple whammy” affecting regional museums that also includes local authority cuts and the lack of private investment in the arts outside London.

Culture secretary Maria Miller is to give a speech to the Local Government Association this month about the importance of maintaining support for the arts, but a DCMS spokeswoman says it is up to the arts council and national museums to determine priorities for investment.

Gordon, however, is sceptical about attempts to recast his report’s figures.“It is not a debate over arithmetic,” he says. “It is fundamentally about principle and about policy that has been largely static for 30 years and more.”

David Anderson

“The sense that change is needed is palpable. The question is whether the arts council can acknowledge and respond to the issues raised.

"In conversations the Museums Association (MA)has had with regional museum directors, many have said that it is hard to speak out because they depend on funding from the arts council and the government, and they don’t want to be seen to be biting the hand that feeds them. It is important that representative organisations such as the MA gather and reflect the full diversity of views.”

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