Independent charity The Art Fund
s nationwide survey finds:
50% saw increased visitor numbers over the summer
26% are dealing with cuts in public funding
30% struggling with rising running costs
25% now having to rely more heavily on volunteers instead of paid staff
As the realities of the recession hit home, visitors have taken refuge in Britain s museums and galleries over the summer. The Art Funds second nationwide museums and galleries survey shows that predictions of the Great British Staycation proved accurate with half of UK museums and galleries seeing an increase in visitors between March and September 2009, including a fifth of museums who saw a rise in visitors of over 10%. However, this positive result masks the fact that behind the scenes budgets are being cut, staffing is under pressure and the basic costs of keeping these institutions running are on the up.
The survey carried out by The Art Fund, the UKs independent art charity, found that whilst public funding, investment income and corporate spending had all dropped in the last six months overall income for museums and galleries is currently holding steady due to the rise in visitor spending in museum shops and cafes. The greatest rise in visitors was seen at national museums, around two-thirds of which saw an increase in summer visits. Free entry clearly proved a draw to cash-strapped families as 60% of those museums seeing an increase in visitors offer free admission to their permanent collections. But an increase in people holidaying at home, overseas tourists lured by a weak pound and the pull of strong exhibitions were also positive factors for museums.
However, financially there is cause for concern amongst museums and galleries. A quarter of all publicly funded museums saw a cut in funds but those museums funded by a Local Authority were clearly worse off with over a third experiencing cuts. National museums were particularly badly hit by the fall in investment income with two thirds of those responding to the survey experiencing a decrease, and in almost every case the drop was greater than 10%.
But worryingly museums are finding that when they can least afford it, running costs are climbing with 30% of museums saying that they spent more than they did in the same period last year. Again and again hikes in utility costs were cited as the reason for this along with planned activities such as building works, maintenance and conservation. The increase in visitors also had a knock on effect on necessary expenditure to cater for their needs.
Staffing issues were also evident. 22% of museums admitted that they have recently seen a reduction in numbers of paid staff. Budget cuts, recruitment freezes and posts being merged were common reasons for staff reductions but interestingly there is also a clear trend of reliance on volunteers emerging with 25% of museums saying they have had a recent increase in volunteers.
Looking forward it is clear that the recession is taking its toll on museums and galleries. 7% say they have already had to cancel activities and there are signs that new exhibitions may have to be less ambitious or that the change-over of displays will be less frequent. There is widespread concern that further economies will mean that care for museums' and galleries collections will suffer.
Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund says: Its clear that when times are tough our cultural institutions provide both a great value for money experience and a distraction from financial worries, so it is worrying to see that investment in museums and galleries appears to be drying up just at the point that they have the most to offer people. We need to be vigilant to ensure that the quality of what our museums and galleries can offer does not suffer as a result of their need to economize.
A survey factsheet can be found at: www.artfund.org/museumsurvey