UK Museums discuss drastic measures in face of funding cuts

UK museums are tabling drastic measures in the face of ongoing funding cuts, which include charging admission and selling items from their permanent collections.

Arts bodies had breathed a collective sigh of relief in November last year after they emerged relatively unscathed from George Osborne’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pledged to increase funding for Arts Council England (ACE) and to ensure entry to UK museums and galleries remained free.

But as the FT reports (13 January) this was good news for some, not all. While the Chancellor’s deal benefited larger institutions such as the British Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A, which are directly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, smaller institutions which rely on funding from local councils still face spending cuts. Since they first began in 2010, cost-cutting measures have led to the closure of around 44 museums.

In the latest effort by UK institutions to keep their doors open, more than one in 10 museums plan to charge admission from this year according to a Museums Association (MA) survey of 115 museums. MA director Sharon Heal expressed grave concern for the future of museums and galleries that serve communities in regional England:

“There is a danger that whole areas of the country will have these services wiped out if the cuts continue,” she warned.

There are also fears that spending cuts might force arts bodies to make financially-motivated disposals of objects from their collections. Around 11% of those institutions surveyed by the MA indicated they would consider selling some of their treasures to stay afloat in the face of cuts.

By doing so, they risk being stripped of their accreditation status by ACE, a fate which befell Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in 2014. It breached the MA’s Code of Ethics and faced legal action after Northampton borough council sold a 4,500-year-old Egyptian statute to help fund an extension to the museum. Resistance to financially motivated disposals is ongoing with the MA survey stating that “collections should not normally be regarded as financially negotiable assets”.

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