An additional £50m per year will be invested in regional museums and galleries in England over the next five years, under plans unveiled today by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The new £250m Cultural Investment Fund will include £125m funding for major infrastructure and maintenance work in regional museums and libraries. In addition, more than £90m has been provided to extend the existing Cultural Development Fund, which uses investment in heritage, culture and creativity to drive regeneration and growth, for another five years.
A further £18.5m has been allocated to the National Railway Museum in York, which missed out on a major grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund last year towards its £55m Vision 2025 masterplan. And the Coventry City of Culture Trust will receive £7m towards its UK City of Culture 2021 programme.
The announcement comes just weeks after the Museums Association (MA), the National Museum Directors’ Council and the Art Fund wrote a joint letter to the Times warning that crumbling infrastructure caused by years of austerity was putting museum buildings and collections at risk.
The maintenance fund is intended to address one of the key recommendations of the 2017 Mendoza review of how the government can support the sustainability of the museum sector in England. Arts Council England (ACE), the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England will play a role in distributing the funding.
The MA said it “warmly welcomes the landmark investment”, adding: “The funding is urgently needed. After years of reduced budgets, museums across the country have leaking roofs, energy-sapping infrastructure and full-to-bursting stores. Today’s announcement will enable many museums to modernise, cater to their growing audiences, and support their local communities.
“Today’s decision is also about protecting our heritage for the long term. The disasters that have struck at the Glasgow School of Art, Notre Dame Cathedral and the National Museum of Brazil in the last two years have shown how fragile our precious museums buildings and collections are. We can only prevent similar disasters by investing in the upkeep of our buildings.”
The MA's director, Sharon Heal, said: “We welcome this additional funding into our regional museums and galleries and we know it will make a massive difference. Last year we convened a Museum Taskforce which showed that there is a desperate need for investment in museum buildings. Our members have told us about crumbling ceilings, leaking roofs and a lack of money to be able to carry out basic maintenance work.
“Often museums are housed in historic properties that have suffered from years of neglect and in order to protect our fantastic collections and ensure that our communities can continue to enjoy them we need to act now - this funding will enable museums and galleries in England to do just that.”
The MA said it would work with DCMS and ACE to ensure the funding reaches the museums and galleries that need it most. It added that it would continue to work with policy-makers in the devolved nations to advocate for similar levels of investment in museums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Kim Streets, chief executive of Museums Sheffield, said: “This is very welcome news. Invest in museum buildings and you’re investing in people. Decades of underinvestment in the Graves Gallery in Sheffield means that this magnificent and much-loved building is limping along. The building requires major structural repairs to keep it safe and accessible. Inadequate heating and unpredictable water ingress are day to day challenges.
“This new investment would potentially put an end to ad hoc closures and mean that the blankets our colleagues and visitors currently use to take the edge off the chill would no longer be necessary. We would be in a position to display more great art in this city, more often, and people from all walks of life would be inspired to spend more quality time in their gallery.”
A full analysis of the funding will be published in the November issue of Museums Journal