Mendoza Review one year on

Neil Mendoza, Issue 118/11, p16, 01.11.2018
Last November, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published the Mendoza Review: An Independent Review of Museums in England. Days later, I went to Manchester to talk about the review and the sector’s “strategies for success” at the Museums Association (MA) Conference.

It was a pleasure to hear from people in the sector so soon after the report was published. It bookended a process that began (and continues) with visits to dozens of museums across the country and conversations with hundreds of professionals.

Our evidence gathering was thorough. We heard from many in the sector, but extended our conversation to talk to politicians, philanthropists, trusts and foundations, and universities.

My review asked an important question: what can the government do to assist in creating and maintaining a thriving, sustainable and effective museum sector in Britain?

The government is deeply immersed in the museum sector and has been since the British Museum was founded by an act of parliament in 1753 and funded through a national lottery.

The government continues to fund the sector in various ways, from grant-in-aid that goes directly to the 15 national museums, three service museums and Arts Council England, to grants such as the DCMS/Wolfson fund, or through local authorities.

In Manchester, I received robust comments on funding pressure, as well as disappointment that our review did not recommend increased funding to the sector. We knew going into the review process that funding was tight (and continues to be so).

I felt strongly that we should explore ideas that made the most of existing resources. We had to understand better the wider museum environment, establish what a flourishing museum sector really looks like, and the more subtle ways that the government can influence the former to create the latter.

Your sector is immensely independent and resilient. It thrives on creative freedom and innovation, but I am also in no doubt that people who work in the sector face challenging work and great pressures. Our museums are world leaders in many aspects, from collections management and exhibitions to education programmes and partnerships. We wanted to find ways to better support this activity and help you drive it forward.

To that end, the DCMS has now published the action plan that I recommended in the review. It lays out the extensive work already happening and the commitments that the DCMS and its arm’s-length bodies have made to support the sector over the next year and beyond.

Alongside the action plan, a partnership framework, developed with the National Museum Directors’ Council and the national museums, has also been published. This details how the national museums will work more jointly and strategically in their partnership activities, including sharing collections and knowledge, that help support and engage with the wider sector.

The action plan and partnership framework represent my central conclusions from the review: to make a strong argument for more investment, the government and its bodies must work more closely together to ensure that every pound of the public funding available to museums is working as hard as it can.

The DCMS continues to implement the Mendoza Review. Every recommendation is being actively worked on and the commitment to implement them remains in place. The changes to the wider sector will be slow. But they should be felt in how museums care for their collections and serve their audiences – the important work you do every day.

At this month’s MA Conference, we will be reconstituting last year’s panel, which will give us the chance to think about where we are one year on, and what the future holds. I hope many of you there will tell me what you need from the government.

Mendoza One Year On: What’s Changed? will take place on 9 November at the Museums Association Conference & Exhibition in Belfast. The session will feature Neil Mendoza, Ian Blatchford, the director of the Science Museum Group, and Laura Pye, the director of National Museums Liverpool, and will be chaired by MA director Sharon Heal