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UK Museums See Rise in Visitors but Feeling the Pinch as Recession Takes Hold
Charles Napier Hemy, 1841 – 1917, Along Shore Fisherman, 1890. Falmouth Art Gallery. ArtFunded 2008.

LONDON.- More people are visiting museums across the UK but those institutions are suffering budget cuts – and the disparity looks set to widen as museums expect visitor numbers to rise and budgets to tighten further over the next six months. These are the key findings of a nationwide survey of museums and galleries carried out by The Art Fund – the UK ’s leading independent art charity.

The survey found that two thirds of museums have already experienced budget cuts and 60% believe that the worst is still to come. Meanwhile, 35% of institutions have seen an increase in visitors – a trend that is expected to rise over the summer as more people choose to holiday in the UK this year. It seems that the relatively low cost or free entry to museums provides good value for visitors when money is tight.

Museums have also taken advantage of a dip in the art market to buy new works. 50% say they have purchased an object in the last six months and almost half of those museums achieved a discount of more than 10%. The Art Fund has always encouraged museums to negotiate a discount: our research has found that there are now some real bargains to be had, with museums negotiating discounts of up to 40%. However, only 24% of museums said they intend to purchase an object for their collections in the near future.

The survey, which is the first of its kind, covers the period between September 2008 and March 2009 – when the downturn began to gain momentum. A total of 312 UK museums took part – almost 20% of all accredited museums. The Art Fund will repeat the survey every six months to indentify trends (such as whether curatorial posts remain secure) and to measure if and to what extent funding from non-public sources such as corporate sponsorship is drying up.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund said: “It's not good news to hear that so many museums have suffered or expect cuts, but the fact that visitors are on the up shows how much museums matter to people, especially now that times are hard. There is a really important message here for our political leaders: think very carefully before you risk doing lasting damage to organisations that cost relatively little to run but matter such a lot to the communities they serve.”

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