Editorial: how long can we keep holding on?

Sharon Heal, Issue 113/10, p4, 01.10.2013
The results of the Museums Association’s annual cuts survey were revealed this month and, as usual, they make gloomy reading.

While the British economy might be showing tentative signs of recovery, the survey shows that museums are still suffering. Cuts are continuing with nearly 50% of all respondents experiencing a reduction to their overall income compared with July 2012.

Of course, no one is just sitting back and moaning. The use of volunteers and interns has increased, and more than 65% of respondents said they would be increasing their focus on generating income and fundraising activities over the coming year. Pragmatic self-preservation seems to be the order of the day.

What really worries me though is the reduction in the public offer: 23% of respondents reported a fall in the number of temporary exhibitions, more than a quarter have cut the number of free events they provide and nearly a third of respondents have suffered a decrease in the number of school visits.

This last statistic is the most concerning, considering the huge effort and investment that has been put into museum learning programmes and facilities over the past 15 years, with a corresponding increase in capacity and audiences.

This fall in school visits appears to be backed up by the latest Taking Part survey from the department for culture, which shows the number of children visiting a museum or gallery in England has fallen by nearly 10% since 2009-10.

The flipside of this is that lots of museums have had a bumper summer, with visitor figures more than 10% up on last year. This is a cause for celebration, but size isn’t everything.

Young visitors are the lifeblood of museums, and chipping away at public programmes and temporary exhibitions, while reducing learning teams, will undermine these future audiences.

Sharon Heal, editor, Museums Journal