Museums in Wales face survival battle

Rachael Rogers, Issue 114/03, p15, 01.03.2014
The biggest challenge Welsh museums face this year is survival. There will be huge funding cuts, particularly for those operated or supported by local authorities.

Project funding will increasingly be used to carry out what were previously core activities. In turn, less core funds will mean juggling grants from the few sources available.

We will be fine tuning our arguments about the importance of museums, which is essential if we expect politicians to support us while having to cut statutory services. Some will highlight their contribution to the economy, others their role in addressing poverty and social deprivation.

Museums will consider alternative delivery models. Those run or supported by local government previously had the security of a guaranteed budget each year, but they are now looking to independent museums for guidance.

We will consider what skills we have that we can use in-house and sell to the sector and beyond. Opportunities to commercialise, while retaining core values, will be considered. Can our unique venues host weddings? Should we charge for entry? Is sponsorship appropriate?

Whether we have the expertise to make these choices is debatable, but it is clearly something we are all thinking about, judging by this year’s sell-out Welsh Federation conference, Innovation in Adversity.

The Williams Commission has recommended reducing the number of authorities in Wales. This may upset existing relationships, but could also bring opportunities. Unification of authorities could lead to better-resourced, larger services.

However, a sense of place is particularly strong in Wales, and while museums are good at creating this, new boundaries will challenge these ideas.

The Distributed National Collection initiative will focus on collections. Projects looking at Welsh costume and natural sciences will link collections through shared expertise and strengthened community links.

If individual museum collections are under threat, this approach is particularly relevant. Colleagues are also ensuring that plans to commemorate the first world war complement each other.

Wales is a key tourism destination and its museums have to promote themselves as relevant to communities, alongside being part of the holiday experience. Users want to see new things, so developing and embedding new technologies and interpretation will be vital.

We are planning the next stage of our museum strategy for Wales, which runs until 2015, to be as relevant as the first.

We will use this year’s Museums Association conference, which is being held in Cardiff, as an advocacy opportunity.

Rachael Rogers is the president of the Federation of Museums and Galleries of Wales, and the heritage and culture service transformation lead at Monmouthshire County Council