Nottingham Contemporary

Museums could lose out if UK leaves EU

Patrick Steel, 23.02.2016
Funds for research, projects and cultural regeneration could be affected
UK museums could lose out if the UK votes to leave the European Union (EU), says the Museums Association’s (MA) policy officer Alistair Brown, pointing to funds for research, projects and cultural regeneration in deprived areas.

The UK will vote on whether to remain a member of the EU in a referendum on 23 June.

“There are two issues at stake here for museums," says Brown. “The first is the simple transactional calculation of what British museums get out of the EU, and what the impact on culture might be if we were to leave the EU.

“While most funding comes from domestic sources, large chunks of research and project funding come from the EU, along with regional development funds which support cultural regeneration in deprived areas. It seems unlikely that the government would invest more in culture if we left the EU, so the risks of leaving seem high.

“But the second question is the greater one – will museums rise to the challenge of engaging with questions thrown up by the referendum? How do museums act as a forum for discussions about the past, present and future of Britain and Europe?

“What stories can museums tell which provide a historical dimension to the debate? Museums don’t have a great track record of getting involved in such issues – and with a referendum date of 23 June, they will need to be nimble if they want to have an impact.”

A spokeswoman for the National Museum Directors Conference says it would not comment on the referendum until it had consulted its members, but a paper addressing the relationship between the EU and UK culture published in 2013 noted that “national and major regional museums have long-standing, multi-functional relationships with museums, galleries, universities and heritage sites across Europe”.

The paper, a response to the government’s Review of the Balance of Competences between UK and the EU: Culture, also stressed that EU funds “provide a structure and scale which an individual member state could not replicate”, while tourism from the EU to the UK and international recruitment was made easier by current visa agreements.

The paper also points to European structural funds having a significant influence on the UK museum sector in terms of culture-led regeneration. It cites the building of the Imperial War Museum North in Salford Quays, Manchester, which received an £8.9m European Regional Development Fund grant, and opened in 2002.

But, it says, “many find EU funding complicated”, although “the fault [for this] lies not with the programmes, but in the way the information is disseminated back to potential applicants”.

For museums across the UK that are currently bidding for EU funding, the future of those funds, for research, projects, and structural development, is uncertain.

Simon Brown, the artefact loans officer at Nottingham City Museums and Galleries and the MA’s East Midlands representative, echoes Brown’s sentiments: “I really do feel that the referendum is an opportunity for us to show a global perspective and the benefits of being outward-looking rather than insular.

“Museums can and must do that, and I hope we can show some leadership in that regard. It's difficult to do any particular programmes at such short notice though.”

One museum that is already planning a programme is the People’s History Museum, Manchester, which will create an exhibition around the referendum, with an infographic displaying the opposing arguments. It will also host a series of debates in the run up to the plebiscite.

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Robert Wharton
MA Member
Volunteer, Wellingborough Museum
24.02.2016, 18:32
If you were dealing with an institution to which you gave £4 and were given £3 back, would it worry you if this was to cease?