Have a look at the “The Mendoza Review: an independent review of museums in England”. This Review of the museums sector is the first to be conducted in more than 10 years. Whilst it focuses primarily on the 1,312 Arts Council England (ACE)-Accredited museums, it does consider the wider context of the sector, which encompasses approximately 2,600 museums in England. In total, this covers a vast array of museums that vary in governance, size, the nature of their collections, and their particular place in the cultural environment of our country.
It has been conducted to gain a deeper understanding of the sector, the issues it faces, and how it can be best supported by government. In particular it looks at the increase and diversification of audiences; the role museums play in developing local communities and placemaking; how museums support soft power; and, crucially, how government might help to create a resilient sector. For the first time, this Review also shows the full amount of public funding received by the sector. Over the last 10 years, we have determined that an average of £844m per year has been invested from 11 government sources, comprising multiple funding streams. Including tax measures, this funding has remained fairly flat between 2007/08 and 2016/17, although reduced in real terms.
The review identifies nine priorities for museums today, and sets out how DCMS and its Arm’s Length Bodies will work better together to create and fund an environment in which they can flourish. It also sets out what individual museums and institutions can do – either by themselves or in partnership with others – to thrive and drive improvement for the sector overall. In this report, we aim to focus on these nine areas through each of the recommendations we make. Those recommendations will be taken forward in an Action Plan produced by ACE, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), national museums and DCMS. Adapting to today’s funding environment is the most important challenge facing museums today. Over the last 10 years, although nominally maintained, funding overall has reduced by 13% in real terms, with some museums seeing larger cuts; there have also been a small number of closures over the period. Local authorities (LAs) have been particularly affected and, in response, there is an increasing move to trusts and other new governance structures. Many museums have successfully changed business models; how they programme for audiences to generate income and provide value for money; and other elements of their service.
Broadly speaking, though, museums do need to increase and diversify their income further. This will enable them to build sustainable and resilient models. At the same time, the use of existing public funding needs to be smarter to help support these objectives. Public funding is ultimately finite. Organisations like ACE and HLF, which are the key sector funders, should streamline their funding to make it easier for museums to access the support they need and to ensure that museums that would benefit the most, in the long term, have ready access.Growing and diversifying audiences reflects the important purpose of museums in engaging people and communities. Over half of the adult population now visits museums – up from around two in five a decade ago – a significant achievement. But those audiences are still less likely to be representative of the very young or very old, ethnic minorities, disabled, or lower socio-economic backgrounds. There is no complacency in the sector – museums are increasingly reaching out to their communities to provide exhibitions that welcome people. These include, for example, building more sophisticated partnerships to co-produce exhibitions; using new technology to collect and analyse visitor data; and gathering other evidence to understand how best to serve their visitors. I
n many ways, national museums have spearheaded these approaches, and provided support to museums outside London to improve access all over the country. This work needs to continue and develop as further best-practice techniques are established and economies of scale established. Dynamic collections curation and management are the fundamental point of museums – to protect and take care of the collections they hold, and to make them accessible to the public, not just physically, but meaningfully as well. This is not without its challenges: buildings maintenance backlogs (including insufficient storage) are a common issue, as is less available curatorial time and expertise, and the ongoing need for a sensible approach to both growing and rationalising collections. There are good examples of where sharing skills and infrastructure can help to overcome these issues; this is a particular area where a strategic framework for how the national museums’ work with the rest of the sector will benefit museums across the country. Contributing to placemaking and local priorities helps museums play a part in their communities and in local decision-making, as well as leveraging investment in culture to also deliver on priorities such as health and wellbeing.
There is increasing evidence to show that cultural institutions contribute a great deal to the local economy, to the wellbeing and education of its residents, and to attracting tourists and businesses to the area. Museums are especially able to do this because of their position as a civic space and their collections, which connect people to place. To encourage this work it is important that museums have and use consistent, statistically robust methods to measure economic and social impact. Delivering cultural education has benefits for schoolchildren as well as helping to make the adult museum audiences of the future. Museums can and do support pedagogy, enhancing the theory and practice of formal learning and the curriculum, as well as engaging children with development – particularly around their social history and place in the world. Developing leaders with appropriate skills and diversifying the workforce are long-standing concerns of the museums sector; they must be tackled successfully if museums are to adapt to reduced public funding and encourage more diverse audiences.
The skills needed for a museums career are changing, with greater emphasis now on flexibility and collaboration, business and digital, commercial, marketing and fundraising. Volunteers are still of crucial importance in keeping museums running, although routes to entry into the sector need to expand to offer greater opportunities to a wider range of people, particularly reflecting the make-up of the local communities they serve. Digital capacity and innovation is an area where museums have been slower than other arts and cultural sectors to develop. Beginning with senior leadership, but encompassing upskilling people in numerous roles, there is a need for greater understanding of the wide potential of digital in museums. Examples include display and interpretation, collections, communications, data – and the need for a strategic approach to embedding tools and technologies into every aspect of museums’ work. Working internationally is of particular importance as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. EU Exit brings challenges around staff resources, loans/movement of objects and tours, as well as funding. It also offers opportunities to refresh and develop further international partnerships, look and work globally, and involve smaller museums that may not have had the confidence or encouragement to find their place in the world.