JR P

Fun fact about me is that I am a huge museum freak, able to wander day after day at their exhibitions. My very favourite is the Tate Modern Museum in London. Last time I had an opportunity to be there, when buying tickets for the temporary exhibitions, it turned out that a membership card would be actually cheaper and that it would include access to the bar at the rooftop. Everybody loves rooftops. When I left the building, after long hours spent contemplating art and drinking wine, I have noticed a huge banner on the museum’s building: ‘Become a part of Tate’. During the last year I have received numerous fliers and monthly members’ magazines from Tate, enough to enhance my curiosity and get acknowledged with the reason why are they suddenly trying that hard to gain a wider range of private donors.

London constitutes a city with the biggest number of museums in the whole world, beating even Paris, Rome and New York. The Center for Economics and Business Research has estimated that commercial creative industries provide nearly 5% of UK’s employment, 10% of UK’s GDP and 11% of the UK’s service exports. Last year more than half of the adult British population has attended a museum.

Even though the industry in England seems to flourish, the sad truth is that during the previous 5 years they have been facing big challenges. In order to reduce the budget deficit created during the recession of 2007, the government had been gradually introducing funding cuts to the sector since 2010. In the first year, the decrease in funding for the Arts Council of England was equal to 50% on administration and 15% on the supported organisations. Lately, some museums are facing cuts of 25% or more on top of those previous reductions in funding. Closure and sale of collections are becoming a possible outcome of this situation. According to the Museums Association’s survey, every year since 2011, almost half[1] of museums have declared a decrease in their income and around 40%[2] of them have declared a decrease in staff numbers. Even though the number of volunteers and interns has increased and even if more individuals seem willing to help in the future, the professional expertise and experience of paid staff cannot be substituted.

Museums try to gain alternative streams of money by increasing their own revenues from sales and tickets and encouraging donations, but not all of them succeed in such a short run. In the period of 2013-2014 only 35% of museums have increased their income and 22% have seen an increase in the individual giving. Asked about the quality of service they provide, 41% of the respondents answered that they expect its decrease in the years coming. It is a 14% increase in that feeling of negativity from last year, which can be justified by a long period of constant, cumulative cuts on staff and funds. Almost 79% of the museums have admitted that they would focus on an increase in fund-raising in the period of 20142015, which is passing at the end of this month. Even though some express their trust in new business models and alternative approaches, there is much more concern about the quality and core values passed by those entities. The growing pressure on income generation and income-focused managing style can undermine the educational and societal role of those institutions. What is more alarming, the frequency of school visits has decreased in almost 36% of museums.

As the Center for Economics and Business Research has found, arts and culture enhance creative problem solving, critical thinking and effective communication in the workforce. Results have shown as well that these individual improvements cause bigger effectiveness, flexibility and productivity of the nation as a whole, as well as they increase creativity, which we believe is an essential aspect for the UK’s increasingly knowledge‐based economy. According to analysis, public funding of arts and culture can not only encourage innovation, but can as well help overcome investors’’ reluctance to put their money in risky projects. All of those features are indispensable to induce growth.

The arts and culture industry pays on average 5% more than the median UK salary, fact that also has an impact on the average household earnings. 32% of visits to the UK and 42% of tourist expenditure involve engagement with arts and culture. From those, other sectors of the economy benefit as well, while jobs and local businesses are sustained.

Museums Association Statement on Sector Funding Cuts implies:

‘(…) Museums can boost people’s quality of life and improve mental and physical health. They can also help define a place and make it worth investing and living in and visiting. Museums are places of stimulating ideas, where learning is active. Often, activity in museums helps save public funding in other areas including health and education. Local authority, trusts and national museums have been hit hard by public sector cuts and further reductions in funding are anticipated. (…) The overall picture is one where museum provision as we have come to know it is under threat.’

Last summer, all the museums have admitted that they would not manage any more funding cuts in the upcoming years. That concerns especially some of the local entities. At the end of this month, results of a recent survey conducted by the Museum Association will be presented. Even though current government’s cuts policy has created savings, in the case of the creative industry the gains may be overgrown by the costs. In the end, art and culture are inseparable parts of the society and have indirect influence on all its members.

 

Statistical data derived from:

Arts Council England and the National Museums Directors’ Council, Centre for Economics and Business Research Ltd. (2013). The contribution of the arts and culture to the national economy.

Museums Association. (2014). Cuts Survey 2014.

 

[1] From 49% in 2013 to 58% in 2011

[2] From 37% in 2013 to 53% in 2014