Government eye on UK museums

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced today (Wednesday, March 23rd)

that it would be conducting a “wide-ranging” review of museums.

The announcement was included in the publication of the government’s Culture White Paper, the first strategy for arts and culture in more than 50 years.

The review will explore three areas: the national infrastructure for museums in England and how it relates to those in the devolved nations; how DCMS-sponsored museums could work better together and with other museums; and the roles of Arts Council England (ACE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in supporting local and regional museums.

The review will focus on shared services, storage, digitisation and resilience, and will consider not only the scope for more shared accessible storage facilities but also what can be done to ensure that more objects held in storage in London can be put on display elsewhere.

The review is expected to be completed during the financial year 2016-17. The DCMS also plans to conduct separate reviews into ACE and the HLF.

The white paper’s main focus is on access and place-making, and makes explicit an expectation that “all publicly-funded arts organisations must increase access for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

The arts council, Historic England and the national museums and galleries will be expected “to develop and share strategies for tackling the lack of diversity in leadership across the cultural sectors and to provide regular reports on what has been achieved”.

The ‘Rome around Bath museums’ leaflet.

A four-year Cultural Citizens Programme, first announced by the prime minister in January, is designed to give children from across the country opportunities to have cultural experiences, and will be piloted in the North West, North East and West Midlands.

And the Great Place Scheme aims to bring arts and heritage lottery funders together to make culture a core part of local authority plans and policies, supported by ACE, the HLF, and Historic England.

The government will work with ACE to develop new indicators to accurately examine changes in engagement and participation for children from low income backgrounds, by demographics as well as region.

The paper outlines a pilot scheme, to be delivered jointly by ACE and the HLF, that will provide match-funding for cultural organisations that use crowdfunding to raise support. And the commits DCMS to working with partners to “support cultural organisations to diversify their funding, including exploring non-grant sources of income and innovative means of fundraising”.

The review restates the £30m Cultural Protection Fund, first announced in last November’s spending review and managed by the British Council, to support the protection of cultural heritage in global conflict zones overseas. This is accompanied by a commitment to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, “subject to legislation”.

There are no new funds to accompany the white paper’s aims, many of which will be funded by DCMS arms-length bodies, but culture minister Ed Vaizey used the launch to announce £4m of new funding for the DCMS Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund  (£2m from DCMS to match £2m from the Wolfson Foundation), for renovation and improvement projects in museums and galleries in England, which will be open for bids from April 2016.

“We welcome the emphasis on equality of access for all and the role that culture and museums can play in enhancing health and wellbeing and creating better places to live,” says Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association. “We know through our Museums Change Lives campaign that many museums are already working in these areas and delivering real change with communities.

“It’s good that joint working between ACE and the HLF is being encouraged and it would be great to see specific funding streams that support work with communities on health and place initiatives.

“The MA welcomes the review of museums and will work with government to ensure that it is as wide ranging as possible and addresses the challenges and solutions that local museums and their communities need.”