Simon Stephens, Issue 118/01, p4, 01.01.2018
Sector reviews need to be acted on this year
The cultural sector is keen on reviews, but last November seemed a particularly productive month for the report writers. We had the government-commissioned Mendoza Review: An Independent Review of Museums in England, the first in more than a decade to examine the English museum sector. This was accompanied by a strategic review of museums sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Hot on the heels of the Mendoza Review came a government review of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Also in November, the Art Fund unveiled The 21st-Century Curator, a report into the evolving role of curators, at the Museums Association Conference & Exhibition in Manchester.

Reports such as these can give a valuable snapshot of where the sector is while also providing direction for future development. But there are two main problems with such publications: firstly, recommendations often get ignored as reports sit on shelves gathering dust alongside all the other reports; and secondly, they are often in danger of being overtaken by events. And there are lots of events that could have an impact on the sector this year.

Brexit is the obvious one. Although some progress has been made in the negotiations between the EU and the British government, the cultural sector in Ireland is still concerned about the impact of border controls being reintroduced. And all over the UK there is still uncertainty about Brexit’s impact on the economy, tourism and the status of EU nationals working here, all of which could affect museums.

Funding is the other big issue for many museums, and some in Scotland are worried that 2018 is going be a difficult one for the cultural sector as budget cuts start to bite more heavily. Museums funded by local authorities in Wales and England have been adapting to reduced financial support for some time.

UK museums have been making great strides in diversifying audiences and deepening engagement. It is important they are given the tools to continue this work. All of the reports above have their strengths and weaknesses but they also all include proposals that could help the sector move forward. But this will only happen if the recommendations are actually acted on.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal