Two thirds of Scotland’s independent museums say they cannot survive for a year

Museums Galleries Scotland says there is a ‘real and urgent need’ for further financial support to avoid closures
Jonathan Knott
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Skye Museum of Island Life
Skye Museum of Island Life Nessy-Pic - CC BY-SA 3.0

More than two thirds of Scotland’s independent museums cannot survive for another year without additional support, according to Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS).

Evidence submitted this week by the development body to the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee says more than half of independent museums (55%) that responded to its inquiries will run out of funds in six months, and 71% will be unable to survive for a year.

More than half of Scotland’s 409 museums (218) are independent charities. Thirty-eight of these provided MGS with information on how long they were confident of surviving.

MGS told the committee that museums were already facing financial difficulties before lockdown, and that it would not be financially viable for many to open this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country’s independent museums were thrown a lifeline in July through a £4m emergency fund managed by MGS, funded through the Scottish government’s allocation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) £1.57bn cultural rescue package.

Accredited independent museums can also apply for a grant from MGS’ £700,000 Urgent Response Fund, and other funds offering short-term support.

But MGS says the situation will get worse as more organisations run out of reserves, and that “the current measures are therefore insufficient to address the scale of the challenge identified”.

It says the 29% of independent museums with enough reserves to survive for more than a year are generally small and volunteer-run. But these are also at risk of closure because most of their volunteers are retired and may be unable or unwilling to return to their positions for some time.

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MGS is also concerned about the situation facing civic museums, saying pressure on local authority budgets “may result in some venues not reopening”. It says that smaller civic museums and those where social distancing would be difficult may not reopen until 2021.

It also says university museums “are feeling under threat of closure or severe budget cuts” because they are seen as non-core elements of teaching and research.

Speaking at a culture committee hearing this week, MGS chief executive Lucy Casot stressed that support for museums would be needed beyond this financial year.

“For all of the museum sector, the concern is what happens beyond March,” said Casot. “This isn’t going to suddenly recover come 1 April next year.”

She said there was a lot of talk about whether different funding models would be needed for civic museums, saying “this year’s funding is really important to create space, but we then need to use that space to think creatively for the future”.

She said MGS had a responsibility to work with the sector to explore possibilities such as “taking more of a place-based approach to cultural activity in an area and whether there are opportunities for things like shared services or shared use of venues”.

Casot said MGS was working with civic museums towards a solution, “but we haven’t quite got there yet”.

Fifty collections in Scotland are recognised as being nationally significant. MGS says that for those held in independent museums, “there is a real and urgent need, in some cases, for additional financial support to prevent museum closure”.

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