Bazalgette: judge us in a couple of years - Museums Association

Bazalgette: judge us in a couple of years

We recognise the imbalance between London and the regions, says ACE chair
Patrick Steel
Arts Council England (ACE) recognises the imbalance in funding between London and the regions and “we have to do something about it," ACE chairman Peter Bazalgette told delegates at the Museums Association Conference 2013 - but "judge us in a couple of years," he added.

Bazalgette was speaking at the Crisis? What Crisis? debate alongside David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool (NML).

Fleming argued that the present funding situation was the worst he’d ever seen. “There is a crisis. And when you are under attack what you don’t do is say we’ll be OK. You say actually these are the impacts.  We are not going to say there’s nothing wrong, going quietly into night.”

The sector faces a massive challenge, said Bazalgette, but not a crisis. “We diversify, we are robust and imaginative, and in three or four years time things may get better.”

But, he added, the downward pressure on local authorities is the most difficult thing to deal with.

Museums are asked to diversify but the [private] money is not there to raise, said Fleming, pointing to ongoing cuts of £3.7m at NML from 2010 to 2016, which had already seen the loss of 90 jobs. “[We are] probably about to lose more,” he added.

Special exhibitions programming, several capital projects, and even window cleaning have all been cut at NML, he said, leading to a 20% drop in visitor figures this year from an all-time high in 2012, “because there are fewer of us and because our resources have shrunk”.

“Expecting that the private sector is going to pick up public sector bills - I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he added.

ACE is talking to local authorities, said Bazalgette. “We are always urging local authorities to consider the impact that culture makes. In many cities the message is getting through.

“It is hard when people are faced with cuts to frontline services. But local authorities know that to create jobs they have to attract businesses, and businesses want a culturally rich city.”

But, he added, arts and culture still have a “massive argument to make in the next 18 months running up to general election”.

Decline in school trips

Responding to a question about decline in school trips to museums, John Orna-Ornstein, ACE’s director of museums, told delegates the arts council was aware it was an issue in the face of growing evidence that school visits were on a downward trend.

Reversing the trend is “at heart of what ACE is doing,” he said. “We are currently thinking about investment for 2016-18, and we are looking at funding for this issue.”

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