Welsh museums are in limbo

The government has not responded to the review of local museum provision and the strategy is on hold until election
Patrick Steel
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Museums in Wales have taken heart at the success of recent public campaigns in Cardiff and Gwynedd to reverse cuts, but for others it may be too late.

As Museums Journal went to press, the government had not responded to the Expert Review of Local Museum Provision in Wales, published last year, which found that 10% of the nation’s local authority museums were operating at an unsustainable level.

In the meantime, many of the museums that the report deemed sustainable have had their budgets cut.

Local authority museums cannot move forward without direction from the Welsh government, says Rachel Silverson, the president of the Welsh Museums Federation.

But with elections in May, the review now lacks momentum. The government response will be just the beginning of the process, says Heledd Fychan, a Museums Association’s board member from 1 April and the corporate affairs and advocacy manager for Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales).

Even with a response to the report before the May elections, there will be a delay while the new minister takes its recommendations onboard. The museum strategy has also been put on hold until after the election, and with every month of delay, more museums are coming under threat.

Fychan adds that if these museums close, they will be lost for ever, leaving some parts of Wales with no local authority museum provision.

The cuts are not limited to local authorities. National Museum Wales and Arts Council Wales both suffered a 4.7% reduction for 2016-17, following a 1.1% fall in Wales’s block grant in the last spending review. Moreover, there is uncertainty over the future, as budgets are set annually.

Independent museums in receipt of local authority funding are also suffering.

Tenby Museum will receive £11,000 from Pembrokeshire County Council in 2016-17, falling to £1,000 in 2017-18. Its honorary curator Neil Westerman hopes an increase in the admission charge will help meet the shortfall, but after that, he says, it will have to reduce paid staff positions.

But it is not all doom and gloom. As a result of heavy campaigning, public support for culture in Cardiff will see budgets maintained for Artes Mundi, Community Arts Grants and Cardiff Contemporary.

And a campaign in Gwynedd will mean that the Lloyd George Museum, earmarked for closure, will keep its £30,290 budget for 2016-17. The museum received further good news when it was given £27,000 funding a year from 2017-18 to 2019-20 as part of chancellor George Osborne’s budget earlier this month.

The upcoming election will see Wales’ first culture hustings, to be held at the national museum on 4 April, giving museums the chance to make culture an election issue. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act comes into force this month, enshrining cultural participation in law.

After the election, a local government restructure may result in a reduction from 22 local authorities to eight, which could potentially benefit museums if they can harness the sort of advocacy on display in Cardiff and Gwynedd earlier this year.

The print edition of Museums Journal is out on 1 April



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