Entertainment & Arts

Squeezed museums ‘feeling the heat’

Maidstone Museum
Image caption Maidstone Museum is among the venues that have received local council cuts

There is a growing gulf between museums in London and elsewhere in the UK that has left some venues struggling to host exhibitions and facing closure, the Museums Association president has said.

"We're beginning to go into a different world where the temperature's going right up," David Anderson warned.

"Museums are beginning to close sites, they're beginning to reduce staffing."

Speaking at the association's annual conference, he said the risk of closures would get "a lot worse".

A Museums Association survey last month found that 23% of venues had seen their incomes drop by 10% in the previous year, while 21% said they had cut at least one in 10 staff.

Local councils in England cut their funding to museums by an average of 11% in 2011-12, according to figures from the association.

Image caption Southampton's SeaCity Museum may be affected by restructuring of the city's arts and heritage team

"That's a dramatic drop," said Mr Anderson, who is director of National Museum Wales

He pointed to an unnamed but "reasonably large-sized regional museum" which had to turn down a free visiting exhibition from a national venue because it had cut staff and could not afford to install it.

"That's the canary in the mine, that one," he said. "There are things happening now that we've not seen before, in this generation anyway."

His comments follow a recent report that showed that cultural venues in London receive £69 of central government funding per resident, compared with £4.60 per head in the rest of England.

Mr Anderson called on the funding to be made fairer but admitted that museums could do more to persuade politicians why they are "so critically important".

Asked what would happen if the current trend continued, he replied: "We are going to end up very probably with a large focus on a few metropolitan areas and a tiny distribution of resource elsewhere.

"Rather like the financial sector has sucked resource into London and exists in a world of its own, we're going to find that the arts world is in the process currently of sucking resource out of the nations and regions and into London, and a few other centres like Edinburgh, which are fairly wealthy as well.

"You'll have a great separation. The wealthy institutions will get wealthier and the poor institutions will get poorer. That's exactly what will happen for the next two decades. It's slowly been happening - now it's gathering speed."

Venues currently under threat include the Walsall Museum and the Whithorn Trust, which looks after historical sites in south-west Scotland, while the Science Museums Group recently rescinded a threat to close one of its attractions in either Bradford, Manchester or York.

Image caption Croydon Council has been expelled from the Museums Association over plans to sell off rare ceramics

Meanwhile, new shadow culture minister Helen Goodman told delegates she was "really appalled" at the report on the difference between arts and culture funding in London and the rest of England.

She also said any Labour government would not increase arts funding in the first year after taking office.

"You will all readily accept that my colleagues who deal with the bedroom tax, disability, care for the elderly, to name but three, are ahead of me in the queue to [shadow chancellor] Ed Balls' door," she said.

"So I cannot promise you new money in year one. Hard choices will still be needed. But I think we must and can look after and use the assets we do have much better."

The Museums Association used the conference in Liverpool to announce that it had expelled Croydon Council for planning to sell 24 valuable Chinese ceramics.

The council hopes the sale will raise money towards redeveloping Fairfield Halls, a 50-year-old concert hall, theatre and gallery.

But selling items from a museum's collection is against the association's rules in most cases.

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