AIM conference debates future

Exchanging ideas on leadership, purpose and government
Patrick Steel
At the Association of Independent Museums’ (AIM) annual conference last month, the sector came together to discuss issues under the theme of “leadership, purpose and governance”.

It drew on AIM’s Hallmarks of a Prospering Museum, a series of benchmarks for best practice in maintaining a resilient museum that it launched at the event.

The event was held at the ss Great Britain in Bristol. Speakers included David Jubb, the artistic director at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), who discussed purpose and leadership with BAC chairman Michael Day; Bernard Donoghue, the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, who talked about what makes a great day out for visitors; and Carole Souter, the chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), who discussed the findings of research into the impact of large capital awards.

The HLF awarded £13.78m to independent museums last year and £33.86m in 2013-14, representing one strand of public funding alongside Arts Council England’s £10m museum resilience fund 2015-18, which saw awards to several independents as well as £900,000 for AIM to help build capacity in the sector.

So is this helping them to prosper? Although it is hard to generalise about a part of the sector that ranges from tiny volunteer-run venues to large sites with many full-time staff, most are getting by quite well, says Adrian Babbidge, a consultant at Egeria. He adds that most of the independent venues whose fortunes he has been following saw their incomes rise up to the end of 2013-14.

But cuts to local authority budgets are having a knock-on effect, he says, even for museums that are not core-funded by their council. An example is the withdrawal of discretionary discounts on business rates.

In Northern Ireland, there is less help for independents in the form of expertise from local and national museums than there was previously, says Elizabeth Crooke, a member of the board of directors at the Irish Museums Association.

And there is a similar issue in Wales, says John Marjoram, the development officer at the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries Wales. But the main concern is for museums that have local authority input. Marjoram cites at least one Welsh independent that is about to lose all its council funding.

There are fewer core-funded independent museums in Scotland and Wales [than in England, where they are a significant minority], says Babbidge, but they face similar problems.

Derby Museums hosted around 30 museum directors last month to discuss the future of independent museums with ties to their local authority, at which it was mooted that the government’s spending plans could lead to little to no council funding for some museums by 2019-20.

Solutions that were discussed included closing branches, scaling back activities and charging for admission.

There will be a session on the challenges facing museums that have moved to trust status at the Museums Association conference in Birmingham (5-6 November 2015)

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