Museums 'ditching staff for volunteers'

Sculpture in museum More than 120 museums took part in the survey about changes over the past year

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More than a third of museums and galleries cut staff last year, while nearly half increased the number of interns and volunteers, according to a survey by the Museums Association.

The annual review also found that school visits were down by 31%.

"Interns and volunteers have plenty to offer but can never replace skilled, experienced staff," said Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association.

The government said museum visits were at record highs.

The Museums Association said staff cuts were primarily due to a reduction in public investment, which had continued to affect half of all museums in the past year.

More than a fifth (21%) of museums cut staff numbers by more than 10% during the period surveyed, July 2012-July 2013.

The museums body said that, contrary to government plans for museums to attract increased philanthropy, only 28% of museums that took part saw a rise in income from individual giving - with 17% experiencing a fall.

"The potential for increased philanthropy appears limited in many parts of the UK and for many museum subject areas," said Mr Taylor.

"Philanthropic efforts will never substitute for the loss of public funding."

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that although these were "tough economic times" the latest figures showed visits to museums are at their highest levels ever.

The statement continued: "We want philanthropy to supplement, not substitute public subsidy and it should be seen as one element of a funding model which includes other forms of income generation.

"We continue to work with the cultural and charitable sector to encourage philanthropy and share best practice on fundraising."

More than 120 museums or museum services were represented in the survey, which was sent out by the Museums Association in July 2013, ranging from large London nationals to tiny rural charitable-trust museums.

It also found that almost a quarter had reduced the number of temporary exhibitions, with 28% cutting down on the number of free events on offer.

"Museums are adapting to reduced resources, working and achieving impact in new, more efficient ways, but services for vulnerable people and non-traditional audiences are under particular threat as education and outreach suffers," said Mr Taylor.

On the issue of the shift towards museums relying more on volunteers and interns, Mr Taylor said: "It is outrageous that young people are expected to work for nothing."

The DCMS commented: "Well-run internships can benefit both individuals interested in a career in museums and the organisations themselves. And whilst it is a decision for individual museums, the government encourages all employers to offer financial support so that internships are genuinely open to all young people and not just those from well off backgrounds."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    As a retired museum pro, I am aware of the dangers of letting volunteers within a million miles of valuable and unique collections. Common sense, dedication and commitment are no substitute for knowledge and training. I have lost count of the iniquities that I have witnessed, but they include somebody washing an oil painting with vim, water and a scrubbing brush. Your Heritage!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    I can't believe there are people arguing against the motive of a person working for free for the benefit of their community and/or intellectual interests. To bar people from doing such, only to ensure that the more greedy will be paid to do it, is ludicrous and selfish. Many volunteers are retirees and have a tremendous body of knowledge to pass on to others, doing it for free should be applauded

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    For every person that is a volunteer out of sheer good will; there are dozens more who are there simply because they need some experience to aid their own job prospects. The fact that there could soon be more volunteers than paid staff means that there will be less people for them to really learn from. With the work for benefits scheme, this will be exploited no end. It's simple: just pay people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Museums should be privatised, and operate off revenue and donations We shouldn't force people to pay for institutions they don't use.

    In a free society, people's enterprise us free from today’s crippling tax burden, would be far wealthier than our society today and thus better able to fund such museums. And the drive to collect the funding for them could unite and inspire the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Very sad - museums are professional bodies that are there for the benefit and education of the public, and need to be supported by the government. Nothing wrong with people volunteering, but there have to be enough professional staff. At a small museum recently I was showed round by a well-meaning but rather unknowledgeable volunteer - no wonder there's a drop off in school museum visits.


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