Response: Heritage Lottery Fund - Museums and Galleries Collections Development Initiative Consultation

January 2007
1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members. These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums.

Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

1.2 The MA warmly welcomes this initiative from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). We are very pleased to have been involved in helping to develop this proposal, and are delighted that it reflects the recommendation of our report Collections for the Future (2005) that funders should take a more long-term and strategic approach to acquisitions. We think that this initiative has real potential to galvanise museums into a more energetic approach to collecting and to raise the profile of collecting within the sector and beyond.

1.3 We hope that HLF's commitment to collecting will set an example to other funders and to government, reminding them of the vital importance of renewing and enriching our museum collections for today's audiences and for the future. However, without implying any criticism of HLF, we should like to emphasise that this is a relatively small sum of money and that it will not, on its own, solve all the current problems surrounding museum acquisitions. HLF should be careful that others do not present this initiative as a panacea.

2.0 Key points

2.1 We have answered the questions in the consultation document in turn, below. However, we want to emphasise a few key points at the outset.

2.2 We very much hope that the consortia of museums and in particular Subject Specialist Networks (SSNs) will participate in the initiative. We think that applications from groups of museums have potential to offer excellent value for money, spread the impact of new collections widely and to help to strengthen existing collaborations between museums, to the public benefit. However, we are concerned that the criteria as they are drafted will serve to discourage collaborative applications; we think additional guidance is needed. We expand on this point at 3.4.

2.3 We strongly believe that HLF should consider the broad national picture in assessing applications, and should not support the acquisition of new material, where such material already exists in another museum and is underused. Put simply, this initiative should not pay for one museum to acquire a new collection of a certain kind if another museum already has a similar collection which is not in active use.

The MA is embarking on a programme to encourage better use of museum collections, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. One strand of the programme aims to develop the use of long-term loans between museums, as a way of spreading the benefit of museum collections to new audiences. If an applicant makes a proposal to acquire material which already exists in UK museum collections and is underused, we should be happy to discuss ways of supporting its loan as part of this project, as an alternative to acquisition.

2.4 It is quite likely that HLF will receive applications focusing on very similar material, from more than one museum. HLF needs to build an opportunity to give special consideration to such similar bids into the assessment process. Depending on local circumstances and the kind of material involved, it might be appropriate to fund two or more similar collecting projects. But in other cases, HLF might consider it appropriate to require applicants to work together or to impose other conditions to ensure the projects were complementary rather than competitive.

3.0 Answers to consultation questions

Question 1: Do you agree with the proposed scope of the initiative?

Yes. We particularly welcome the emphasis on making the scheme accessible to all subject areas and museum types.

Questions 2 and 3: Do you agree with the definition of eligible applicants?


3.3 Question 4: Should higher priority be given to some types of museum or collection over others? Why?

We think that all applications should be considered on their merits but we also think that, in assessing applications, HLF should aim for a good spread of awards, across a range of collection types and museum types. This might mean that, in practice, applications from some subject areas and some museum types would have to be stronger in order to secure funding than those from other subject areas or museum types, where there were fewer applications.

That might seem inequitable on the face of it but we think it is likely to be necessary if HLF is to achieve the stated aim of supporting the development and use of all types of collection, in all types of museums. Some subject areas and some types of museums will be starting from a higher base than others in terms of current activity and other support available.

3.4 Questions 5 and 6: Do you agree with the proposed criteria for the initiative? Are there other criteria that should be added?

As stated above, we think these criteria will need revision and additions, if the initiative is really to be open to applications from consortia and SSNs. As they are written, the criteria assume that the application will be aimed at enhancing a single collection and be from a single organisation. As a first step, the language needs to be changed to reflect the possibility of joint bids.

Some changes to the actual requirements will also be needed. As the criteria stand, applicants are required to refer to "the organisation's current collection development policy", "the organisation's audience development and learning strategies", etc. What does this mean for joint bids? Is it assumed that consortia will have joint strategies already in place? Will they be expected to develop them as part of the application process? Or will they be expected to refer to the strategies of the individual organisations that form the consortia?

3.5 Some collaborative bids might come from a lead museum with a number or partners, others from a consortium of equal partners, such as some of the established SSNs. A bid with a lead partner could focus on the collection and strategic aims of the lead partner, with reference to how other partners are to be involved, for example in audience development and volunteering.

This might be relatively straightforward. It is less easy to see how bids from a consortium of equal partners might fit the current criteria. SSNs are currently in very different stages of development and while some will be able to refer to established joint policies and aims, others are likely to be developing these as part of the application process and may need special consideration and support.

3.6 While it may not be entirely straightforward to develop criteria that will allow for joint bids, we believe it is essential that HLF does so. Collections for the Future, identified greater collaboration between museums in both collecting and the use of collections as one of the measures that would do most to increase people's enjoyment of museum collections. This initiative could be an important step in helping to foster collaboration; and collecting partnerships established through the scheme could have a long-term benefit, enhancing the legacy of the programme. We urge HLF to do all it can to ensure the scheme is genuinely open to collaborative bids.

3.7 A further point, as stated above, is that we think that applicants should also be asked to demonstrate that the material they are looking to acquire is not available for long loan from any other museum in the UK. They should also be required to include in their application a brief account of what collections exist in UK museums in the specific subject area in which they are seeking to acquire. Bids from groups of museums should obviously look at the existing collections across the group and consider the possibility of loans between the institutions, to complement the acquisition programme.

3.8 Criteria 5, financial need and viability: it would seem sensible to ask applicants to provide details of the staff time and expertise available to support collecting, as well as available funds.

3.9 Question 7: do you agree with the proposed outcomes for the initiative?

Yes. However, one small caveat is that the last item on the list (collaboration with other relevant organisations and networks) seems to make the assumption that the bid will come from a single museum, and this should be reworded.

3.10 Question 8: are there other outcomes that should be added?

We hope that, at the end of the funded projects, working practices will have been put in place and a culture of committed collecting established, in such a way that the projects will continue to have an impact beyond the end of the funded period.

3.11 Question 9: should some outcomes have higher priority than others?

We think that some outcomes will be more important in some cases than others, depending on the nature of the project and the kind of collection involved. We think that HLF should retain flexibility here in assessing bids.

3.12 Question 10: do you agree with the proposal that at least 50% of HLF's grant should be devoted to purchases?

There are some collecting areas where items are cheap - or even free - to acquire, but time consuming to locate and acquire (for example, some kinds of social history, archaeology and natural history). We believe that these kinds of collecting also need encouragement.

However, we are aware of HLF's argument that these kinds of collecting can be funded through existing grant programmes. So as not to discourage museums who wish to step-up their collecting activity in one of these areas, we think that HLF should actively publicise the availability of other kinds of funding for such projects, and provide support to applicants who are ineligible under this scheme, because their costs are associated with research and field work, and not with purchases.

3.13 At the other end of the financial scale, there may be museums and consortia collecting in relatively high-cost areas who aim to use an HLF grant under this scheme to leverage in funding from elsewhere. In such cases, it does seem reasonable to insist that at least 50% of the HLF grant is spent on purchases, to ensure that other funding bodies are not expected to pick up too much of the bill for the acquisitions.

3.14 A further note on eligible costs: we understand that HLF will currently support the cost of purchasing items from overseas if the costs are proportionate and the item is sufficiently important, but will not pay for associated costs such as international research trips.

We think there are limited circumstances in which applicants to this programme might reasonably consider overseas study visits, or trips to research possible material overseas and we think HLF should consider funding such trips, if the applicant can justify the need for them.

3.15 What kinds of advice and support would you like to see offered: a) before the application; and b) during the life of the initiative? Firstly, in developing any online advice and support, we think that HLF should work closely with MDA and look at the resources being developed as part of Collections Link, so as not to duplicate effort.

3.16 During the life of the initiative, we think that it will be important for HLF to organise events to bring together participants to share experience and insights.

3.17 We welcome the idea of training events on key skills. These are likely to take two forms: those on generic skills (such as negotiating with dealers), which could be organised centrally and offered to all successful applicants, and those which are specific to individual subject areas.

We think that HLF should work with applicants to ensure that they have appropriate mechanisms in place to get the specialist support they need. This might include working with an external specialist mentor, depending on the extent of in-house expertise. We certainly agree with HLF's suggestion that there should be an emphasis on developing the skills of core staff, and that projects should not rely on short-term appointments.

3.18 HLF should also be aware of a project the MA will be launching later this year. With the support of The Monument Trust, we will be running a programme of post-retirement fellowships, aimed at enabling retired curators to pass on knowledge to their successors. The focus of the scheme is on capturing unrecorded knowledge about the collections they previously worked with in their museums.

However, all successful applicants will be required to spend 10 - 30% of their funded time supporting the wider museum community, through whatever mechanisms are appropriate in their subject area (working with SSNs, organising masterclasses, etc). It is possible that some of the fellows might be able to support projects funded under this initiative, by providing expert advice.

For more information or comment, please contact:

Helen Wilkinson
Policy Officer
Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
E1 6NW
020 7426 6954