MA sets up taskforce to tackle challenges facing museums

Rob Sharp, Issue 116/09, p7, 01.09.2016
Museum Taskforce’s inaugural meeting discusses issues such as Brexit, tolerance, sustainability and funding
Brexit’s impact on museums was among the topics that were tackled by the Museums Association’s Museum Taskforce, which was launched in July to address short- to medium-term challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

Leading museum professionals in the group also addressed issues such as sustainability, tolerance and uncertainty over funding, at its first meeting, which took place in late August.

Emmie Kell, the chief executive of Cornwall Museums Partnership and one of the 14 members of the taskforce, says: “The uncertainty around Brexit is something we are grappling with here.”

She points to the concern created by local hate crimes in the wake of the vote.

“It is not only what it means for people living in Cornwall, but also for our museums, which are located in a tourist area reliant on visitors, many of whom come from European countries,” adds Kell. “Being seen as a place that is welcoming and tolerant is really important.”

According to the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, the region was on course to have benefited from £2.5bn of combined EU, public and private funding between 2000 and 2020. However, 57% of Cornwall’s population opted to leave the EU.

Uncertainty over funding

“Indications are that we continue to plan for those projects to be delivered, but obviously there is anxiety over whether that funding will be forthcoming within the next two years before the exit happens, or whether that money will be provided by central government, which was part of what was promised,” says Kell.

Elaine Hill, the development officer for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and another taskforce member, agrees that uncertainty over EU funding is a problem.

“One of the challenges over the next few years will be economic in Northern Ireland, considering funding that was previously provided by the EU,” she says. “We need to find out what funding opportunities will still be available to us.”

Victoria Rogers, the museum manager at Cardiff Story, is also a member of the taskforce. She highlights the recommendations of the Expert Review of Local Museum Provision in Wales, published last year, many of which – including the creation of three regional bodies to support museums – offered radical solutions.

“Wales has been at the forefront of thinking about museums as a whole, not just national museums but local and independent museums,” she says. “I think the sector in Wales regards those recommendations as a real lifeline. They are far reaching and would certainly provide a platform for museums to survive in the current climate.”

Rogers adds that Wales could serve as an example to the rest of the UK.

“The value of museums is recognised by the Welsh government, for example, in its Future Generations Act, as not just about looking after material culture, but about wellbeing and social cohesion of the present, the future, and the past,” she says. “Hopefully, drawing that together into a state of the nations report will help give it clout.”

Laura Pye, the head of culture at Bristol City Council and part of the taskforce, says sustainability, in terms of finance and relevance to society, is a priority.

“My focus will be how do we ensure museums are sustainable in their relevance to society and in terms of their business model,” she says.

“I have issues around storage. I have issues around large civic collections and them being expensive. I have issues around operating in historic buildings that aren’t built for the business models we now need to operate in.”