Arts Taskforce, Consultation Document

Response from the Museums Association

1.0 Introduction

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 Our response begins with some general comments, followed by answers to each key area addressing specific consultation questions where appropriate.

1.3 Throughout this response the term "museums" is used to refer to all UK museums and galleries.

2.0 General Comments

The MA welcomes the taskforce's inquiry into arts policy in the UK.

The taskforce may wish to consider addressing workforce development beyond individual artists.

DCMS have played a useful role to date, with changes felt in areas such as leadership and diversity, however problems still exist in a workforce largely paid for by the public. DCMS, MLA and CCS have a continued responsibility to and important role in the modernisation of the workforce, providing leadership and coordination to those who work in museums.

A better skilled, more mobile workforce with the opportunity of broader entry routes and earning acceptable levels of pay is crucial to enable the sector to continue to attract and retain talented individuals and inspirational leaders. The MA is currently developing an action plan around entry to the museum workforce in consultation with the sector, and in 2006 published the first best practice salary guidelines for museums.

We are also beginning to address the decline in collections related knowledge highlighted in the MA's 2005 report 'Collections for the Future' through a programme of retirement fellowships funded by the Monument Trust which aim to capture unrecorded knowledge.

A profession that reflects the diversity of its many stakeholders must be achieved to respond to the demands of the 21st Century. The MA regards a more diverse workforce to be a key target for the sector and continues to make an impact on this important area through its MA/MLA Diversify scheme.

2.3 We understand the rationale for separating the arts and heritage into two distinct inquiries and including museums in the former. However, there is a significant overlap between museums and heritage, for example the organisation that has the largest number of museums in the UK is the National Trust.

To clarify this distinction the taskforce might consider using the term "arts" when referring to the arts sector alone, and "culture" when it means the whole cultural sector, including the arts, heritage, museums, libraries and archives.

3.0 Summary of Key Points

Government funding should recognise the intrinsic, instrumental and institutional benefits museums contribute to society. Involving museums in the process of target setting would make museums less vulnerable to changing political priorities.

Lottery funding to museums should be restored through HLF.

Acquisitions, disposal and loans are essential components of sustainable collections management.

Renaissance in the Regions should be fully funded.

Stable and predictable funding structures must be sought and maintained for national, local authority, independent and university museums. In particular culture should be fully included in the guidance notes for local area agreements.

The provision of high quality learning opportunities is central to the purpose of museums, as is a commitment to widening and deepening access to collections.

4.0 Why should any Government Fund the Arts?

Museums value the opportunity to contribute to social cohesion as well
as other broad agendas such as health and economic regeneration. However, using only instrumental benefits to justify funding seriously damages their integrity because it articulates only a small part of their purpose.

The instrumental value of museums cannot be separated from their intrinsic and institutional value. To achieve this the difficulty of measuring intrinsic outcomes needs further central development work such as has been provided by MLA's Inspiring Learning for All framework.

5.0 Funding and Structures for the Arts

5.1 If the taskforce intends to include all museums in the arts inquiry, it must consider the complete funding picture including MLA and university museum funding through Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

DCMS: Do you believe that 'culture' requires its own department?

We feel the particular characteristics and needs of the cultural sector require a dedicated team within the DCMS, however we would encourage a joint approach at strategic level where appropriate such as the long-awaited DCMS/Department for Children, Schools and Families Museum Education Strategy.

5.3 Lottery Funding:

Competing political priorities and most recently the Olympics have diverted significant funds away from the sector, leaving museums, their collections and public responsibilities in a vulnerable position.

The Heritage Lottery Fund needs continued income to ensure that people have richer experiences of our museums and their collections, investing in infrastructure, learning provision and audience development. HLF would be better able to achieve this with increased funding to twenty-five per cent of lottery investment coupled with a return to the additionality principle.

5.4 Private Funding: What is the best ratio of state/private funding?

Museum collections are held in trust for society both for current users and future generations. Although we support the encouragement of private investment it can never become a substitute for government funding but should be additional to it.

Recent changes to Gift Aid on admission charges have affected the way museums generate income. Once past the first year learning curve, the MA recommends a review to determine how well the changes are working for museums.

The MA supports the Art Fund's campaign for a relief against income tax for gifts of cultural assets to museums. Many items with middling financial value are currently being sold on e-bay or by other private means. Tax incentives to offset donations during a person's lifetime would encourage those from less wealthy sections of society to instead donate these objects to museum collections where they could be made available to a wide audience.

Museums and museum funding:

5.5.1 Free entry
The MA supports free entry to all public museums on the basis that they should be accessible to everyone, including those who may not choose or currently be able to use them. However many independent and publicly funded museums rely on admission charges for core revenue, therefore a greater injection of funding would be necessary to achieve free access to every public museum.

5.5.2 Acquisitions and disposal
Museums need to make better use of their collections both as part of their duty to the public and as part of sustainable collections management. Achieving this requires a change in approaches to collections and collecting at a strategic level to be more dynamic in terms of acquisitions, disposal and loans. Adequate funding for acquisition; recognition for domestic and international partnerships to share collections; and responsible approaches to disposal are all part of this culture change. The MA's 'Effective Collections' is a five-year programme supported by a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to encourage long loans between museums and a more pro-active approach to disposals.

5.5.3 Accountability and target setting
Government funding is integral to the core purpose of museums; to enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. A degree of accountability is therefore essential to maintain and demonstrate this relationship with the public. However, the current relationship between central government and museums and how targets are set makes museums vulnerable to changing political priorities. This process would benefit from greater input by museums to reflect their key functions and responsibilities.

5.5.4 Renaissance in the Regions
Renaissance in the Regions is a continuing programme administered by MLA to reinvigorate England's major regional museums. The programme has had significant successes to date, for example exceeding targets to engage school age children in high quality learning experiences, building staff capacity and developing the quality of collections display and interpretation, however there is far more still to do. DCMS should ensure that MLA is adequately resourced to fully fund all regions in line with phase one hubs. The designation challenge fund must also be maintained as a way of supporting nationally important collections held in non-national museums.

5.5.5 Systems for appointing trustees
The taskforce may wish to consider recommending a review of the current system of appointing trustees, including revisiting their role. Administrative confusion and complexity, inadequate diversity and alleged tensions between museum directors and chief executives are the key questions surrounding this important issue.

5.5.6 National museums
Government must rectify the relative decline in core funding to national museums that is particularly affecting buildings and infrastructure.

Local authority museums
Local authority, small and independent museums are key to our cultural landscape, engaging local communities and leading regional tourism. Local authority funding for culture is particularly vulnerable because of government financial pressures on them. A stable and predictable funding structure is needed based on the uniform provision of basic cultural entitlements and the proper inclusion of culture in local area agreements.

5.5.8 Independent museums
Independent museums do not receive substantial funding from government and many do not wish to sacrifice the independence this allows. However these museums make an important contribution to the sector, particularly in areas where they provide the only cultural heritage provision for local people. Some stable and predictable funding is therefore needed for independent museums, particularly through local authorities.

University museums
University museums hold significant collections and conduct world-class research. They are in danger of a sharp decline when the current funding system through HEFCE ends in 2009. Appropriate allocations of HEFCE funding for university museums must be maintained to prevent damaging access to these important public collections and knowledge about them.

6.0 The Arts and Education

Learning in its widest sense is central to the purpose of all museums. Far from education being a distraction, museums are continuing to pursue the integration of learning throughout the museum at a strategic and functional level and are engaging audiences through targeted programming.

Museum learning has a far wider remit and impact than schools and formal education. Museums need to be supported to continue providing high quality formal and informal learning opportunities on-site, in the community and online for a variety of learners; for example communities, adults, families, scholars, commercial researchers and schools.

7.0 Access to the Arts

Museums do not merely seek to continually increase visitor numbers, but also want to widen and deepen their audience base by reaching different people in a variety of ways and providing a higher quality experience to existing audiences.

For more information or comment, please contact:

Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
E1 6NW

020 7426 6946