Anderson: cultural funding model is failing

Patrick Steel, 17.03.2015
MA president calls for culture strategy for England
The cultural model we have is failing, David Anderson, the president of the Museums Association and director of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, told an audience at a Wallace Collection event, A Future for the past?

“What one doesn’t have at the moment is any sense that there is a coming together of strategy and policy in England, or even an aspiration [to bring them together],” he said.

“There is an urgent need for additional funding for local and regional museums, not in five years but now. There is a need for devolution of funding decisions in England outside the metropolis. There is a need for a national cultural strategy, not just for museums but for culture as a whole, that completely rethinks what our purpose and contribution can be.

“Nineteenth century ideas of what a museum is are no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. We need to have the courage to challenge the present model, to speak about the need for change, and to actually to change it.

“We need to develop new business models, new ways of working, we need to look to coproduction, cultural participation, cultural democracy and accept that what the public needs should be driving us not our sense of what we are as institutions.”

Christoph Vogtherr, the director of the Wallace Collection, warned that funding cuts were risking museum work in the UK. The cuts were a risk to infrastructure, in-house knowledge, scholarly quality and impartiality, and access opportunities for wider society, he said.

He warned of a “strong move towards privatisation”, citing English Heritage as a “test-run for what we are all faced with… privatisation of a public entity with a payoff at the beginning and then the guarantee that no further regular state money will come in”.

Vogtherr said he had received a letter from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stating that it would work with arms-length bodies to explore financing models that were “less reliant on grant-in-aid”.

There are many towns and cities that simply do not have the resource to be able to continue to sustain their cultural activities, said Anderson. Austerity is “killing local museums”, he added, and there is a risk that in five years time much of the locally funded culture sector will have shrunk dramatically.

Robert Hewison, a cultural historian and associate of think-tank Demos, said that the sector should expect further cuts to DCMS funding to national museums and the arts council. Grant-in-aid to national museums had fallen by 7% in cash terms, he said, but their overall income had risen by 18.8%, and the trustees of at least one national museum had discussed reintroducing charges.

Income at local authority museums had fallen by £5m since 2009, he said, and those museums were “hanging on by their fingernails”.

Maria Balshaw, the director of the Whitworth and Manchester City Galleries, said Manchester Art Gallery had had 50% less funding over the past five years, but the museum was “twice as busy” and had had a bounce in visitors after the reopening of the Whitworth earlier this year.

A news analysis looking at free entry to national museums will be in the April edition of Museums Journal


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William Brown
MA Member
Network Manager: West, Lincolnshire County Council
19.03.2015, 18:48
I wholeheartedly agree with David Anderson here. The 19th century conception of museums has long been anachronistic – and to be fair it’s really mainly the multi-function/collection sites and services that are still challenged by this hangover from the past. The concept of what ‘comprehensive and representative’ heritage and culture means (and achiveablitliy) given a severely decreasing funding base has got to be addressed. The reality of the current operating environment is that this conceptualisation is no longer philosophically or financially supported. The funding of such functions from the public purse, justified as a ‘public good’ has gone. The internally led conceptualisation of ‘Value’ is challenged and contrasted by what and how the public conceive Value. If we are honest we really don’t actually know what the public really value, let alone incorporate it into how we operate and run our sites and services. Museum Accreditation does not help here as it still at root champions/favours institutional and intrinsic value. In Lincolnshire we have secured ACE Strategic Funding to explore what the public value in relation to heritage and culture, so we can use this information to shape the future of the Service. I would be very interested to hear from anyone interested in this journey (or who are on it already), particularly but not exclusively those challenged with running County services. Its time as a sector we really faced up to and understood what ‘Value’ is, how it is constructed and brought into play in the creation of local policy and activity on the ground. Contact me:
Vanessa Trevelyan
MA Member
Consultant, Vanessa Trevelyan Consultancy
19.03.2015, 10:00
I am really frightened for the future of local authority museums. In order to be seen to be positive and "on board" with their authorities' challenges, directors are having to promise to deliver the same services for less, redirecting staff from core roles into increased income generation, and placing increased pressure on all staff. I agree with David Anderson that there needs to be a good hard look at the funding model for museums, and realism about what they can achieve. Public expectations of museums are now very high and museums are rightly very popular. It would be criminal to waste that strategic advantage.
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
18.03.2015, 18:51
In fairness to English Heritage (most of its people anyway), I wouldn't say their split was full-on privatisation. That doesn't mean it will work for either side - the professional services side or the property - but the model is clearly the National Trust rather than some private outfit. They desperately want the volunteers and the bequests. I don't know what the new constitution of English Heritage (the properties) will be, but it should be something like the inalienable NT. Meanwhile I'm seriously worried about the professional services side. Proposals to charge for development advice will simply mean the vandals will ignore them while the good guys (my sector, of course) won't be able to afford to pay.