The cost of living crisis is having a huge impact on all of us, so it is no surprise that museums and galleries are feeling the strain as much as everyone else. Staff are under pressure because of inflation in what is already a relatively poorly paid sector, as shown by the Museums Association’s (MA) latest research into salaries.
And museums themselves are also facing what feels like a perfect storm of rising prices and falling revenues, combined with years of funding budget reductions because of austerity and the likelihood of more cuts to come. All this is on the back of Covid-19 and the fact that not all audiences are returning to museums in their pre-pandemic numbers.
For lots of institutions, these issues are leading to an existential crisis, with many looking ahead with real fear as they struggle to see a clear route out of their ongoing difficulties. As a sector, we need to join forces and find some answers to how we can create sustainable futures for our institutions in the face of these multiple challenges.
And although stable funding is vital, museum leaders are also asking critical questions about the future of governance, audiences, collections and many other areas. The sector is also thinking about the relationship our organisations have with central and local government and how museums can deliver on some of the wider community agendas, whether that is related to economic growth, placemaking or wellbeing.
Overall, there is a feeling that radical solutions are needed for museums to face the future with confidence and hope. This is an issue for the whole sector but is a key concern for our civic museums, with their particular funding arrangements and relationships with local government.
We will continue to explore the challenges of the cost of living crisis in future issues of Museums Journal and, crucially, what some of the solutions might be. Do get in touch if you’d like to share your ideas and experiences.
The subject will also be discussed at this year’s MA conference in Edinburgh where we have a special morning session where anyone interested in the future of civic museums can come together to discuss the way forward. Please join us.