Museums will need rescue package to survive Covid-19, say sector bodies

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 22.05.2020
Neil Mendoza appointed to lead panel for cultural recovery and renewal in England
A recovery package will be urgently needed to rescue the museum and gallery sector when the Covid-19 crisis has passed, stakeholders have told the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

In evidence submitted this week to the UK parliament’s inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors, museum bodies proposed a Recovery and Resilience Fund to support museums after the lockdown, saying: “The sector urgently needs large-scale grant funding to survive the period after lockdown in order to cope with a longer-term reduction in visitor numbers, philanthropy, international collaborations and other sources of income.”

The joint response was compiled by the Museums Association (MA), National Museum Directors’ Council, Association of Independent Museums, Art Fund, Heritage Alliance, National Trust, English Civic Museums Network and University Museums Group. The MA is producing similar evidence to submit to governments in the devolved nations.

The response outlines the “extremely serious” impact that the lockdown has had on the sector so far, warning that collections and historic buildings were at risk of being “broken up and sold off” due to insolvency. 

It says the UK-wide emergency measures introduced by the chancellor to support businesses and individuals affected the lockdown have had a mixed impact on the museum sector.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been hugely valuable to museums, says the response, with an estimated 46% of museums using the scheme. But other support measures such as emergency loans have not been widely used by the sector, says the response. It adds that the support package for charities in England excluded most museums.

It was announced this week that Neil Mendoza, author of the 2017 Mendoza Review of the English museum sector, will be the UK government's commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal.

Mendoza’s role will be to support the culture and heritage sector’s recovery from the pandemic. He will work with sector representatives to garner the strongest, most innovative ideas for renewal, and “initiate an ambitious philanthropic focus on arts and culture”.

Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota will join Mendoza on the Cultural Renewal Taskforce, along with six other representatives of DCMS sectors. However the government has been criticised for overlooking the heritage sector on the panel, with no one from a heritage organisation represented.

Tourism

Meanwhile in separate witness evidence, the DCMS inquiry heard that the UK tourism industry is likely to lose £15bn coming from inbound tourism and £22bn from domestic tourism this year. “Every time we do the modelling, the figures get worse,” the head of VisitBritain, Patricia Yates, told DCMS.

The culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced this week that holidays in the UK could be possible by July, but Yates said it would be a struggle to convince domestic tourists to travel even when restrictions are eased.

“Only 19% of people are thinking about booking a domestic holiday for the summer,” she said. “There is a real job to be done there, given that it has to be the year of domestic tourism. There is a real job to be done in convincing people that it is socially responsible to travel and enjoy a holiday, and that it is safe to do so.”

Bernard Donoghue, the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, told the committee that some of the UK’s most important visitor attractions “have a question mark over their financial sustainability”.

He called for the government to extend the furlough scheme to the end of the calendar year, saying it would not be financially viable for some visitor attractions to reopen under new social distancing restrictions.

In further evidence, Hilary McGrady, the director-general of the National Trust, said the crisis was likely to cost the trust £200m this year. She echoed the call for a long-term recovery package for the heritage sector, saying: “For the rest of the sector, this year is going to be hard, but the next two years are going to be really difficult.

Evidence

The MA is urging museums and galleries to continue submitting evidence to the the UK government and devolved governments on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

  • Responses to the UK parliamentary inquiry, which primarily covers England, can be submitted here. The inquiry closes on 19 June.
  • Evidence to Scotland's culture committee can be submitted here. There is no closing date.
  • Evidence to the Welsh Senedd's culture committee can be emailed to SeneddCWLC@senedd.wales

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