Museum funding system is broken, says MA

Geraldine Kendall, 31.03.2014
Official response to regional imbalance has been negligible
The Museums Association (MA) has told a select committee hearing into the work of Arts Council England (ACE) that the current system for distributing museum and arts funding is broken.

The MA submitted a written report last week to the parliamentary committee outlining the problems faced by regional museums under the current model.

In reference to the findings of the recently published Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report, which showed the extent to which arts funding is skewed towards London, the MA said: “The MA believes the report, alongside large cuts in funding, presents an historic opportunity to talk seriously about the imbalance in funding and ways of addressing it.

"The assumptions on which the decades old framework for arts and museums funding were based no longer apply.”

The MA said the longstanding imbalance was being further exacerbated by cuts in local government funding and the difficulty of raising philanthropic funding outside the capital.

“Many museums outside central London are suffering, or anticipating, harsher cuts than nationals because of their heavy reliance on local authority funding... This is exacerbated as there is far less opportunity to raise philanthropic funding outside central London.”

The association said it was disappointed by the “rather defensive response” to the Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report: “There may be varying interpretations of the data, which was drawn from ACE and government sources, but government and national organisations should respond constructively...

“It is regrettable that a typical response appears to have been to attempt to undermine the report’s research, followed by attempting to ignore it.”

“The response from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been negligible; yet, as far as museums are concerned, it is principally the pattern of DCMS funding that is the major contributor to regional inequality.”

The MA called on the arts council and DCMS to set benchmarks to achieve a more balanced financial framework over the next three, five and 10 years.

“They also should take the lead on planning a future for museum provision in England that realistically takes account of what money is likely to be available and from where,” added the MA.

The MA went on to say that the arts council’s five goals were “not always a good fit for museums”. It wrote: “They focus too strongly on concepts of ‘the artist’ and artistic ‘excellence’ that simply do not translate well to modern museums.”

The MA called on ACE to put a greater focus on the social impacts of museums, as outlined in the Museums Change Lives document.

Last week’s select committee hearing was the first of three evidence sessions into the work of the arts council.

The committee also heard evidence from Liz Forgan, former chair of ACE, and the three authors of Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital.