News analysis: Scotland debates future funding

Felicity Heywood, Issue 110/05, p15, 01.05.2010
Report wants money to be more evenly shared across the country
A call for a “rebalancing” of how Scotland’s museums and galleries are supported and funded was made in a report published last month by Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS). Challenges and Opportunities is based on consultation with MGS’s 350 members.

At present only the national museums – National Museums Scotland (NMS) and the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) – receive direct funding from the Scottish Government.

Joanne Orr, chief executive of MGS, said: “The report highlights issues which have been evident and indeed growing for some time. However, in the current financial climate, competitive tourism environment and forecast of public sector cuts – some museums and galleries across the country will shortly reach breaking point.”

The report calls for a “balanced, cross Scotland view”. Orr pointed to the recent capital awards from the Recognised Collections of National Significance, which is administered by MGS as an indication of how much demand there was for funding. Although £750,000 was available, £3m was requested.

The national museums responded to the MGS report with a joint statement from John Leighton, director-general of NGS, and Gordon Rintoul, director of NMS. It said: “The national collections support the notion that the museums and galleries sector across Scotland would benefit from extra investment, for example from national and local government.

“We do not support the notion, touched on in the MGS report, that existing funding could somehow be redirected from the national museums and galleries to other parts of the sector without drastic consequences.”

The statement said that the national museums were “already hard-pressed to maintain an international level of ambition” and the situation was likely to worsen with predicted public spending cuts. “It is very difficult to see how the wider museums community and the Scottish public could be better served by dissipating and weakening the position of the national organisations.”

One MGS member, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the pitting of the nationals against the rest of the sector was unhelpful. The source said everyone on both sides knew that there were issues but there was some merit to the report. The source added that it  was important to question how the cultural voice in Scotland is heard.

A new organisation, Creative Scotland, which has all of the cultural sector under its wing except for museums, is perceived to have a strong voice. A source said: “MGS is an anomaly and it is heading into a sand dune. Apart from handing out grants, its powers of persuasion, lobbying and ability to represent the sector at the top table need signs of coming back to life.”  

A spokeswoman for MGS said the idea behind the report was to give the sector an opportunity to respond and to be consulted on major issues. She said its purpose was to flag up opinion of the members and to feed into the next stages for the Scottish Museums Think Tank, which was convened in 2009 by the Scottish Government.

As part of the consultation MGS asked its members, if there was one message to go to the minister for culture and external affairs and the Scottish Museums Think Tank, what would it be?

The three consistent themes that emerged were the role and value of the sector, knowledge, expertise and networks, and planning and funding for the sector.

The report says: “Museums and galleries across Scotland are calling out for acknowledgement and appreciation of the value that they represent to Scotland’s heritage, culture, tourism, education, health and local community structures.”

The Scottish Museums Think Tank, which includes Rintoul and Leighton, will now consider the report.

Capital funding

In March 2010, Museums Galleries Scotland announced that the following 12 venues with Recognised collections had been awarded a share of £750,000 in capital funding (the fund was more than three times oversubscribed, with £3m applied for):

- Museum of Scottish Lighthouses (£63,063) to modernise storage conditions and make stored objects accessible to the public

- University of Aberdeen (£85,000) for a new gallery on its main campus to display collections

l- Auchindrain Trust (£21,000) to refurbish its visitor centre

- Dundee City Council (£60,000) to build a storage system for its paintings within its Recognised Fine and Decorative Art Collection

- Dundee Heritage Trust  (£50,415) for conservation work on Captain Scott’s ship, the RRS Discovery  

- Scottish Fisheries Trust (£33,800) for an interactive facility for visitors

- City of Edinburgh Council (£80,628) to raise the profile, improve access and care of the council’s collection of Scottish art

- Scottish Railway Preservation Society (£160,000) to create an open storage system

- Glasgow City Council (£110,000) to help unite the textile collection that is currently spread across four venues

- Glasgow School of Art (£51,921) to install solar-controlled blinds into display areas to protect light-sensitive works of art

- Scottish Football Museum (£70,470) to improve its lighting system

- Renfrewshire Council (£38,400) to move its Paisley Shawls and design and sample books to a new storeroom