Museums hit by 'perfect financial storm'

Nearly 40 institutions are under threat or have already closed as lottery funding bonanza ends and credit crunch bites

Andrew Johnson,Jordan Savage
Sunday 03 January 2010 01:00 GMT

The party's over. After a decade bingeing on a lottery windfall that has seen huge numbers of culture lovers attracted to glittering new buildings, Britain's museums and galleries are facing a crisis.

A survey by The Independent on Sunday reveals that while the likes of the British Museum and the Tate galleries in London continue to enjoy huge crowds, almost 40 smaller museums and galleries across the rest of the country are either under threat or have closed in the last year. Many are considering drastic cuts in their hours or staff numbers just to survive.

Lottery funding, which fuelled the boom years, has been diverted to the Olympics, and local authorities, which fund many small museums, are tightening their belts because of the credit crunch.

The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro is planning to sell two prized paintings to raise £3m after having already made seven staff redundant. Bournemouth's Russell-Cotes Art Gallery is considering winter closure to save £79,000; and Glasgow council plans to shut five museums on Mondays to help save £60m.

Some smaller museums have already closed. The last visitors toured the reconstructed iron age roundhouses at the Peat Moors Visitors Centre, near Glastonbury, in October after Somerset council withdrew its funding; while the Lock Museum in Walsall shut its doors in December.

The Aston Transport Museum in Birmingham is under threat of closure, while Brighton's renowned Booth Museum of Natural History is contemplating a three-and-a-half-day week as part of the council's £8m savings package. Museums are also threatened in Caernarfon, Canterbury, Chester, Nottingham and Leicester.

It's all a far cry from the heady days of the Lotto millions, the fruits of which are still continuing to drop. This year saw the opening of the refurbished Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at a cost of £61m; a £30m gallery for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to house its medieval collection; plans by Tate Modern to build a £215m extension; and the opening of the new Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum at a cost of £78m.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, said that museums were "soft targets" and the first to face cuts when savings need to be made.

"For any museum to survive it needs public sector support, and the cuts they are facing make it harder and harder for the dedicated staff and volunteers to provide the museums we all want and deserve," he said.

A Local Government Association spokesman said local authorities are facing a "perfect storm" of financial woes. "They have declining income and increasing demand for services," he said. "The cold wind of recession has hit councils in the last year. Undeniably difficult choices have to be made."

All is not lost, however. A spokeswoman for the Russell-Cotes gallery said it had received some funding from the Museums and Library's Archives Council to help it plan to generate its own income.

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