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Cash-Strapped Museums Must Work Together to Keep Building and Refreshing their Collections
Artists carry a framed photograph into the Royal Academy of Arts, in central London. AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis.

LONDON.- Staffing and financial worries are in danger of taking their toll on museums’ ability to build their collections according to the Art Fund’s latest research, the Collecting Challenge 2010. The research, which surveyed 276 UK museums, found that three-quarters of museums say that inadequate funding and spending cuts are the biggest barrier to museums’ collecting activity. This is a trend felt particularly strongly by Local Authority museums, just 14% of which could count adding to their collections as a priority, compared to almost half of National museums, prompting concerns that Local Authority collections will fall behind.

At the same time museums fear that staff cutbacks could have serious long term implications for their collections with the threatened loss of curatorial skills. 20% of museums and galleries say that avoiding staff cuts, and therefore loss of expertise, is a major obstacle to collecting.

Dr Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund said: “The loss of curatorial knowledge from museums is deeply troubling. We must do all we can to preserve these skills now for the benefit of future generations of museum goers.”

However, museums are finding innovative ways to enrich their collections despite the difficult financial climate. The survey found that museums are increasingly working in partnership to make joint purchases and are keeping collections fresh by borrowing works of art from other institutions. A significant 47% of museums and galleries said they are displaying an increasing number of items that are borrowed from other institutions, and 59% expect this trend to rise.

Similarly, 11% of museums have seen an increase in joint acquisitions in the last five years and 20% expect further combined purchases to be made in the future. A notable example of this is the joint acquisition last year between the V&A; the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham and the Fashion Museum in Bath of nine haute couture gowns designed by French couturier, Madeleine Vionnet, acquired with the help of an Art Fund grant. The trend for joint purchases is a new one – in 2006 - at the time of the last survey, it was a relatively unusual initiative but in the past few years there is evidence that museums and galleries have begun to routinely consider and apply for joint acquisitions.

But despite collaborative working the fact remains that budget cuts have taken their toll on museums’ ability to add to their collections alone. In 2006 71% of museum curators said that their collecting ambitions were being met but this figure has now dropped to just 45%.

The survey revealed that museums are nervous about public money being further reduced after the election with over 60% of museums saying that avoiding cuts after the election is the biggest challenge they are now facing. With public money tight, galleries are increasingly looking to external funding sources to aid purchases: 62% of the surveyed museums have applied to the Art Fund for assistance in the last 5 years.

Stephen Deuchar, said: “The versatility our museums are showing in working together represents a model for the future. By collaborating, museums are able to pool their resources and between them share their collections and achieve some ambitious new acquisitions. The UK tour of ARTIST ROOMS and the recent work of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery and Potteries Museums, Stoke-on-Trent , to jointly purchase the Staffordshire Hoard are great examples of this. But museums are right to be concerned about the possibility of core funding being reduced after the election. Without a clear sign that funding will be maintained, collecting, whether individually or collectively, could become a rare luxury for museums. Continuing to grow our collections is vital if the UK ’s museums and galleries are to hold their place on the world stage.”

A survey factsheet can be found at

The Art Fund | Dr Stephen Deuchar | The Collecting Challenge 2010 |

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