UK museums and galleries facing crisis with 60% worried about survival

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UK museums and galleries facing crisis with 60% worried about survival
Aberdeen Art Gallery © Marc Atkins / Art Fund 2020.

LONDON.- Museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK are facing a crisis due to the impact of Covid-19, with six in ten (60%) surveyed worried about their survival. Today Art Fund, the national charity for art, is releasing new research showing the perilous position of the country’s much-loved museums, alongside an urgent new crowdfunding appeal: Together for Museums.

The UK’s 2,500 museums were thriving before the pandemic hit, providing inspiration, joy and education, enriching lives and bringing communities closer together. But national and local lockdowns, combined with social distancing limiting visitors, have been catastrophic. Despite this, only half (55%) have received emergency funding to date, with 56% of those saying they would have gone under if they had not received it.

Museums have shown they can respond to this crisis with creativity and serve their communities, but need urgent help. Together for Museums aims to raise £1 million directly for museums to adapt to today’s challenges and evolve. Art Fund is asking the public to make donations of any size. From just £15, unique objects and artworks are available as rewards, created by leading artists including Lubaina Himid, Anish Kapoor, Michael Landy and Melanie Manchot.

The need for support is huge. In the last six months, Art Fund received applications totalling over 16.9m from 451 organisations for its £2.25m emergency funding to help museums adapt to Covid-19, which is now exhausted. In the first two rounds, just 17% of applications could be supported.

Museums rely on visitors and the income they bring to survive, but many are struggling to reopen. Amongst Art Fund’s 800 museum partners, 20% have been unable to reopen at all following the first UK-wide lockdown. This number will remain high as museums in England are now shut in line with government guidelines, whilst those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have also been subject to localised lockdowns. The new research found just 35% of museums closed between lockdowns were confident that they will reopen again in the coming months.

Last month, average visitor levels fell to just 25% compared to October 2019. This has led to a huge reduction in income – 77% say that it is ‘significantly or severely’ down or they are earning nothing at all. These statistics have worrying implications for the future of these organisations, and the tens of thousands of people who work at them - over half (61%) are concerned about losing their job.

Museums know a new approach is needed to come out of this crisis: nine out of ten (92%) say that they will need to ‘adapt and innovate’ in order to survive Covid-19 and post-Covid times. Applications to Art Fund’s emergency Respond and Reimagine funding programme this year showed museums rethinking how they work, making their venues Covid-safe, and taking exciting projects out into their communities despite enormous challenges. The £1 million target for Together for Museums will enable so many more to respond to the crisis with creativity, and imagine a better future: from pioneering projects for schools; to taking collections out to the community; adapting spaces for visitors; digital engagement for those that can’t currently visit; and creating exhibitions for reopening. Over £250,000 for Together for Museums has already been raised through over 2,000 donations from Art Fund members and supporters, taking the charity a quarter of the way towards the target.

Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director, said: “Over the last six months it’s been hugely inspiring to see innovative ideas from museums to adapt and evolve, but heartbreaking that we cannot support them all. This terrible pandemic, which separates us from our loved ones but has brought us closer in support of our local communities, has taken museums to a make-or-break point. Single-handedly, we cannot solve this crisis - but together, we can make a huge impact. We are urging everyone who loves and uses museums to come together now, to help so many more museums thrive.”

Sir Ian Blatchford, Director & Chief Executive Science Museum Group and Chair, National Museum Directors’ Council said: “Museums always find creative responses to problems, and over the course of lockdown they have done so with gusto. Millions of people turned to museums to find inspiration and education while their physical doors were closed. Sadly, reopening alone is not a smooth path back to sustainability as museums face tough challenges to adapt what they can offer to visitors in person or online. These figures show the stark financial reality. This excellent campaign asks what we can give back to ensure museums survive for their communities.”

Supporting Information:

£1.5m of Art Fund’s £2.25m Respond and Reimagine funding has been awarded to 44 organisations to date, with final funds to be allocated this month. New recipients announced today, include:

• Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden, to live-stream Roald Dahl’s amazing archive into classrooms around the UK and beyond

• Postal Museum, London, who have adapted their interactives, route and access resources to ensure an engaging experience despite Covid-19 restrictions

• Lakeland Arts, Cumbria, for ‘Museum on the Move’ to take its collections out to people in the remote Cumbrian community

• Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art to commission artists to engage with audiences both on site and digitally

• Salford Museum and Art Gallery for a new blended learning programme enabling physical and digital engagement with its collections, expert educators, and unique learning experiences

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