Museums 'need extra funding within two years to avoid decline'

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The Independent Online

Museums and galleries will have to prepare for an "orderly management of decline" unless they get more government money within the next two years, a report said yesterday. The research, by Tony Travers of the London School of Economics and Stephen Glaister of Imperial College London, showed that museums were not indulging in "luvvie whingeing" when they claimed to be underfunded by the Government. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has increased funding for sport by 91 per cent from 2001 to 2006 and the arts - including music and theatre - by 63 per cent. But the increase for museums, galleries and libraries is 26 per cent, the authors found.

The independent report, Valuing Museums, stated: "Museums and galleries in the UK appear to have been the victims of their own quiet success. By almost entirely avoiding the kind of funding 'crises' that have become a regular feature in other parts of culture, and by broadly delivering on the many objectives set for them, museums and galleries have perhaps left themselves in the position of weak supplicants.

"Other arts and cultural sectors, with more effectively stated problems, have been far more successful in harvesting public resources." The English National Opera, for example, has recently received about £10m in a "stabilisation" bail-out from the Arts Council.

The report concluded: "If the present pattern of funding were to continue for more than another year or two, it would become imperative for [the national museums and galleries] to start to prepare for an orderly management of decline, possibly planning to cut back on galleries or access to exhibits."

The findings will be among evidence presented to the Treasury by national and regional museums, which have joined forces for the first time to lobby for an extra £115m a year funding. The combined "manifesto for museums", announced yesterday by museum heads, including Sir Nicholas Serota of the Tate and Robert Crawford of the Imperial War Museum, comes two years after the last bid for cash - targeted at the regions - produced only a fraction of what was demanded.

But museum leaders said that the "startling" results of the £72m secured last time - in terms of extra visits, education work and regeneration - proved that the sector could effectively use the money. Jane Glaister, president of the Museums Association, called for further "substantial investment". She said: "The next spending round gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to build on all that has been achieved so far."

Research for the museums showed half of children in Britain visited a museum or gallery at least once a year and that the 2,500 museums and galleries received more than 100 million visits annually, more than all of the country's live sporting events combined. The economic impact of the national museums, including the contribution to tourism, was in the region of £2bn.

The report said the funding disparity between national museums and galleries and other art forms was "doubly odd" given their success in meeting government targets.

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