England’s cultural sector is said to be in “crisis” as central government slash funding to regional museums.
While theatres, libraries and museums contribute £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy, many organisations are forced to rely on volunteers.
“This government sees funding for museums as a luxury and they have washed their hands of the situation outside of London,” warned Tony Butler, the director of Derby Museums trust.
Recent austerity cuts imposed by the government have caused 61% of local authority museum to charge admission fees to cover their shortfall. According to the Museum’s Associations 2018 report, “a significant number of museums (11%) reduced opening hours.”
Over the last eight years, funding to the arts sector has been reduced by nearly £400 million across England. Local councils, as a result, are having to funnel their diminishing budget into supporting social care and other life-saving services.
Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, believes these spending cuts are “hollowing out the [arts] sector.”
Regional museums are increasingly cutting staff numbers as well. Despite Leicester museum’s internationally significant geological collection and its 76 Picasso ceramics bequeathed by Richard Attenborough, Leicester council planned to remove all four of the museum’s curators.
Director of the V&A museum, Tristram Hunt, said on Twitter that this decision was “really shocking news.”
The divide between regional cultural institutions and those within London is now drastically apparent. Of the sixteen English cultural institutions funded by the government, only two are based outside London (the Royal Armouries in Leeds and the National Museums Liverpool).
“Society is increasingly polarised,” claimed museums consultant Peter Latchford, “and museums are one of the few institutions which are still trusted and which can mediate and encourage discussion.”
Although underfunding is a serious problem threatening regional museums, some are still thriving. In April, the Art Fund announced its shortlist for the Museum of the Year award, which included museums in Scotland (V&A Dundee), Wales (St Fagans) and Northern Ireland (HMS Caroline).
The chair of the prize jury and director of the Art Fund, Stephen Deucher, said it was “very heartening that despite the rather grim landscape there is this relentless ingenuity coming out of museums.”