- Date: 12 November 2013
- Area: National
One of the Arts Council's Major partner museums, Leeds Discovery Centre. Credit: Copyright Leeds Museums and Galleries
On the morning of Tuesday 12 November, the Arts Council’s Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette took part in a plenary debate at the Museums Association conference 2013.
Speaking alongside David Fleming, Director, National Museums Liverpool, both responded to the theme Crisis? What crisis?
In his speech, Peter talked about museums he's visited in his nine months as Chair at Arts Council, and highlighted some of the ways in which the Arts Council supports the museums sector, including:
Peter talked about the redevelopment of the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, now renamed the Wilson, benefitting from £6 million of public investment and philanthropic funds; the Hull History Centre and its thriving programme of local engagement, which is moving into a new building in the new year; and the work being done by Colchester and Ipswich Museums giving homeless people a sense of status.
Peter also explained our latest thinking on the holistic case for investment in the arts and culture – a combination of cultural, societal, economic and educational benefits; and he referenced our refreshed strategy: Great art and culture for everyone, bringing our new remit for museums and libraries into our central mission.
On the question of whether the museums sector is in crisis, Peter said:
‘Looking at the title of this conference, is there a crisis in the ambition and values of our museums? My answer to that would be an emphatic no. I’ve read Museums Change Lives, and it’s the document of a sector that is aware of its potential and ambitious to realise it.
‘It tells us that museums are trusted by the public - and popular too. More than half the adult population visited a museum in 2012. It tells us that museums enrich individual lives, contribute to strong communities and help create a better society.
‘It also tells us that museums benefit from engaging with their public and bringing them, their skills and their creativity into the buildings.
‘It doesn’t paint a picture of a sector fading away in dusty poverty – it gives us a vision of sector that is reinvigorating itself, though different sorts of partnerships - in funding, in skills, in thinking.’
‘Is there a crisis financially? We can’t pretend that things aren’t hard. Arts Council Grant in Aid from central government is down a third over four years, and local authority funding for the arts is also down, with cuts to arts and culture budgets predicted to be around 7% next year.
‘We know that many museums are dependent on local authority funding and that this has hurt them. Local authority funding for museums is more than £200 million - four or five times the money the Arts Council invests.
‘We know that in the next funding round, our major partner museums face a 5% cut, just like our other regularly funded organisations. A quarter of you have had to reduce public access and more than 40% of you have had to lose staff. It’s tough.
‘But, as Museums Change Lives highlights, we also know that there is a way through this - through diversifying our work, our audiences and our funding. And these are all part of the same ambitious approach.’