Laura Pye, the chair of the Museums Taskforce (c) Phil Sayer

Museums Taskforce calls for consistent funding levels

Jonathan Knott, 01.03.2018
Report focuses on collections, funding and relevance
Museums need “long-term strategic investment and consistent levels of funding” in order to carry out their work effectively, a report published today by the Museums Taskforce has argued.

The taskforce was convened by the Museums Association (MA) in summer 2016 “in response to the increasingly difficult financial situation that many museums in the UK face”. Chaired by Laura Pye, the head of culture for Bristol City Council, it comprised 15 senior museum professionals representing all four UK nations.

Its aim was to “provide an independent voice to advocate for museums across the UK, using research and evidence to make the case to funders, politicians, stakeholders and the public”.

The report makes a series of recommendations for museums as well as governments and other stakeholders, focusing on funding, collections and relevance - three areas that the taskforce says are “critical for the future of the sector”.

The report argues that museums can “make people’s lives better” through benefits such as enhancing health and wellbeing, working with vulnerable and marginalised communities, and revitalising local economies.

It calls on museums to “foster a brave approach to collections management and rationalisation”, saying that it is “well understood” that many museums have “full stores, collections acquired inconsistently and gaps in collections knowledge”.

“It is necessary to break the cycle of having too much material that is not being used or delivering public benefit, not enough information about what museums have, and insufficient capacity to manage collections and make confident and informed decisions,” the report says.

The taskforce also stresses that all museums face “high fixed overheads inherent in what makes them unique – caring for collections and buildings and ensuring public access”.

Most of the Museums Taskforce's specific funding recommendations are made in separate statements for each nation, which were originally published between February and May last year.

The funding statements for England and Wales say that there is an “urgent need” for the relevant government “to develop a strategic approach to museums and their funding”.

The statement for Northern Ireland says that “museum functions are strengthened where there is a collective strategic approach including central and local government and a broad range of strategic bodies”.

And the statement for Scotland urges the country’s government to continue to consult widely with museums to ensure the “alignment and synergy” of the government’s culture strategy, which is currently being developed, and the national strategy for museums and galleries, which Museums Galleries Scotland is set to begin consulting on later this year.

Laura Pye said: “The taskforce was set up by the MA in July 2016 to look at the challenges and opportunities that museums face across the whole of the UK.

“We wanted to review and understand where we were as a sector, accepting that this is different for different organisations; learn from examples across all four nations; and share suggestions as to how museums can thrive. We hope the statements focused on funding, collections and relevance provide an overview of where the sector is currently at and offer recommendation to move forward with. We will be using the statements to speak to key stakeholders and to advocate for the changes we believe are needed.”

Sharon Heal, the director of the MA, said that the taskforce had been “instrumental for helping the MA understand the challenges that museums currently face and how we might work together to find solutions”.

“The three focus areas, relevance, funding and collections are critical issues,” said Heal. “We need to ensure that the recommendations are now explored and taken forward.

"There are a number of areas that the MA is already working on. For example, we are working with stakeholders and sector bodies to explore how we can make our collections more relevant and work with communities to unlock new narratives. I very much look forward to continuing to work with members of the taskforce to find ways to implement these vital recommendations.”

The MA is holding a Future of Museums: Collections seminar on 20 March at the Wellcome Collection in London, which includes discussion on future policy work around collections.

Links and downloads

Museums Taskforce report and recommendations

Museums Taskforce statement on funding, England

Museums Taskforce statement on funding, Northern Ireland

Museums Taskforce statement on funding, Scotland

Museums Taskforce statement on funding, Wales