Sharon Heal, Issue 114/03, p4, 01.03.2014
ACE, tell us how you are going to improve
Last month the culture, media and sport select committee gathered evidence for its inquiry into the work of Arts Council England (ACE).

Let’s start with the positives. It’s good that a wider range of museums across England are being funded and that the dominance of the Renaissance hubs has been replaced by new consortia that are now being asked to play a more clearly defined leadership role.

And the continued funding of museum development means that vital advice and support is reaching smaller museums. Access to new funding streams and museums being more obviously part of the wider arts ecology are also good news.

But we shouldn’t accentuate the positives without acknowledging the negatives. One of the things that the select committee has promised to examine is the regional imbalance of revenue funding, and no matter what the arguments are about the figures, that imbalance does exist.

Of course, there are historic reasons for this concentration of funding in London, and there is an argument that London competes with other capital cities as a tourist destination.

But for the public, this means you are spoilt for choice if you live in or near London, while if you live elsewhere, your choices are increasingly limited. The imbalance in funding is exacerbated by local authority cuts, which are coming thick and fast, and make the outlook bleak for museum services across the UK.

There are no miracle cures. But things can be done to even the situation out. For example, funding for those museums that are not London nationals could be prioritised.

A planned approach to regional exhibition programming and a strategy for the national museums to focus more of their activity outside of the capital would also help.

Last November, when ACE chairman Peter Bazalgette spoke at the Museums Association conference, he acknowledged there was a problem and asked for time to fix it. Now would be a good time to hear how this might happen.

Sharon Heal, editor, Museums Journal