The new lockdown has dealt a “body blow” to museums across the UK and many do not have the reserves to see them through the winter, the director of the Art Fund has warned.
In a statement to announce the latest recipients of the charity’s emergency grants, Jenny Waldman said recent research had found that 60% of museums in the UK fear for their survival, with small institutions most at risk. She warned that many much-loved museums face mothballing or permanent closure as a result of the pandemic.
Institutions at risk include Birkenhead’s Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, which is under threat of closure as Wirral Council tries to balance its budget for the next financial year. A petition has been launched to prevent the closure of the 92-year-old institution.
Wirral is one of a number of local authorities considering draconian measures as they count the cost of dealing with Covid. A councillor for Leeds City Council warned last year that all of the city’s museums and galleries would be forced to close in its worst-case budget scenario.
Waldman said: “The latest lockdown is a body blow and is leaving our museums and galleries fighting for survival. Smaller museums in particular, which are so vital to their communities, simply do not have the reserves to see them through this winter.
“Our recent research found that six in ten museums, galleries and historic houses were worried about their survival. Tragically we are now seeing well-known and much-loved museums facing mothballing or permanent closure.”
The statement comes weeks after the Florence Nightingale Museum announced it was to close indefinitely to protect its future. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has also announced that it will remain closed throughout 2021 while its building undergoes an electrical upgrade, though it plans to reopen in time for the city’s Commonwealth Games in 2022.
Applications for emergency funding from the Art Fund have topped £16.9m since the pandemic began, but it has only been able to fund 15% of applicants. So far the charity has awarded £2.25m in grants across three rounds, but it warned that “far more help is needed”.
The 23 recipients of the latest round, who will share £750,000, include Firstsite in Colchester, Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway and the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket.
A number of well-known artists have donated works to the Art Fund’s ongoing Together for Museums crowdfunding campaign, including Cornelia Parker, Jeremy Deller and Howard Hodgkin. From today, all donations to the appeal will be match-funded.
Waldman added: “We are urging the public to back our Together for Museums campaign, and donate if they possibly can, to help us do all we can to ensure these essential places of inspiration, reflection and joy are there for us on the other side of this crisis.”