March 29, 2012

Is it really of benefit to the UK culture sector to have free museum admission?

Posted at 12:49 pm in British Museum

Despite cutbacks across most government spending, free admission to museums seems to be treated as sacrosanct. Boasts are often made by the British Museum, that only there, can the Elgin Marbles be seen free of charge, but little consideration seems to be given to ho this affects the UK culture sector as a whole.


Museums slash staff and opening hours after ‘devastating’ cuts
Of the 140 museums surveyed, 22 per cent are reducing their opening hours, and 30 per cent are cutting education staff
By Rob Sharp , Arts Correspondent

A fifth of British museums have been hit with “devastating” budget cuts of more than 25 per cent, according to the first wide-ranging survey of the sector since the Coalition’s Comprehensive Spending Review last year.

The cuts have had an impact on opening hours, public events and staffing, the Museums Association says in its report on 140 museums across the country, published today.

Of those slashing their spending by 25 per cent or more, 85 per cent have reduced staff levels to cope with their smaller budgets. Two-thirds of those same institutions have also cut public events, and half have scaled back their opening hours.

According to Mark Taylor, the director of Museums Association, the roll-on effect of a cut in Government grants has been “devastating”. “Some museums have had 15 per cent cuts, but 25 per cent cuts is teetering on edge of catastrophe,” he said.

Among those considering cut-backs was Leicester City Council. Earlier this year it was reported that the city council mooted plans to withdraw public access to three institutions. The local authority says that while cutting budgets and opening hours was considered in a draft budget the proposals were not implemented. Leicester Museums include the Jewry Wall Museum, an archaeological centre which explores one of the city’s most popular attractions, part of the original Roman town’s public baths.

Among museums which were free but now charge admission are Aston Hall, a Jacobean mansion in Birmingham, and Bournemouth’s Russell Cotes Museum – a rare surviving example of a Victorian art collector’s house.

“The survey shows it is a myth that you can cut funding without affecting frontline services,” said Mr Taylor. “People throughout the UK will have less access to the learning, inspiration and enjoyment that museums bring,.”

Of the 140 museums surveyed, 22 per cent are reducing opening hours, 30 per cent are cutting education staff, 46 per cent expect the quality of their services to decrease, while 41 per cent say knowledge and expertise at their institution is being lost. Among those quoted in the association’s report is an anonymous former curator of a museum in the South-west of England, who said: “It is a now a zombie museum.”

A curator at a military museum in the South-east said: “At the moment things are staying the same. We are anticipating degradation in quality and are planning to increase the number of volunteers when we know what the situation will be.”

Another curator, who also remained anonymous, added: “Year-on-year cuts are now causing alarm bells to ring. Jobs are under threat.”

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