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Taylor: commercial activities should not be seen as a "bolt-on"

Geraldine Kendall, 08.03.2012
Commercial enterprise will be key to future funding models, says MA director
Museums often fail to understand or value the importance of commercial activity in their institutions, according to Museums Association director Mark Taylor.

Taylor was speaking yesterday at the Association of Cultural Enterprises trade convention in Brighton, which promotes commercial best practice in the cultural, heritage and visitor attraction sector.

In a keynote address to delegates, he said: “There are still too many museums where commercial activities are seen as a ‘bolt-on’.”

Taylor said that, in some quarters, there remained a “lack of enthusiasm” for aspects of museum activity focused on generating income rather than on more traditional curatorial or educational work.

He said: “There are good reasons for creating trading companies or separate commercial sections, but the danger is that walls are erected between these activities and the rest of the museum.

“Not everyone working in a managerial, curatorial or educational role in museums today understands, acknowledges or values those who generate income.”

This attitude can sometimes be the result of a “rather arrogant assumption that work with collections is paramount and should be funded without questions, reference to need, demand or consideration of what the user wants”, said Taylor.

He added: “However good the exhibitions and outreach are, it may not matter a jot if the figures don’t add up at year end.”

Taylor called on museums to better recognise the role of income generation “in staff and management structures, on governing bodies, in publications and reports, and in the culture of the institutions”.

He warned that, as government and local authority funding shrinks, publicly funded museums would need to find more diverse income streams and commercial enterprise would become an increasingly core activity.

Taylor said: "These new types of organisations will, in time, develop very different philosophies and approaches... [They] will be more entrepreneurial, fleeter of foot and commercially-minded."

The MA and the Association for Cultural Enterprises are actively discussing how they can work together for mutual benefit, said Taylor.

The convention continues today at the Brighton Dome.

Click here to read Taylor's speech in full (doc)