AIM cost of living survey – plus comment from the sector on affording bills 5 Oct 2022

AIM has published the results of its cost of living survey, based on responses from 350 museums during September. The replies came in both before and after the Government published the details of its relief scheme. Findings include:

  • Half of museums think they can absorb cost of living in the short but not long term, with 70% having unrestricted reserves for three or more months.
  • Energy costs are the main pressure for 70%. These museums on average expect a doubling of energy costs from 20 to 45% in the next 6 – 12 months – but there is wide variation with some facing up to 90% increases.
  • 40% of organisations have or plan to scale down activity including reducing public offer, reducing events, or delaying or cancelling gallery refreshes and capital projects. One in six are planning restructuring or redundancies.
  • Rebuilding visitor numbers is still a work in progress: around half found visitors and income over the summer were in line with their projections or up to 29% below. A third had visitors significantly below projections.
  • 40% of respondents said they are working on reducing energy consumption, and 20% are seeking grants for energy efficient heating and lighting.

Help with energy bills is the main ask from most museums, in part delivered by the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. However, there will still be sharp increases for many. The Heritage Alliance is among the organisations calling for museums and heritage sites to be among those receiving support after March 2023.

AIM Director Lisa Ollerhead also spoke to The Art Newspaper podcast about the cost of living. She said that museums were having trouble before the energy crisis, especially those reliant on international visitors, and that it is a ‘tired sector’ with people still recovering. She emphasised that there is regular sector co-ordination across MA, NMDC, Art Fund and others to speak to funders and Government, saying “it’s really important that we have a set of clear, coherent asks that we have all agreed is the best for the sector.”  She added “we know the kinds of support that are on the minds of people in DCMS and in Government and we are wanting to understand particularly the non-CRF Covid interventions such as VAT cuts and business rates relief, and what kind of impact similar interventions might have on the utilities.” She also touched on the capacity of museums to act as warm banks, saying “We are definitely hearing from a lot of our members that they are feeling that responsibility. Museums are community spaces, they are civic spaces, and they want to be able to offer that to people if they are struggling and cold at home… But it is a big challenge for museums to pay their own bills and keep themselves warm”.

Paula Orrell is Director of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN), another body collecting data on the impact on the sector. She says “It’s not just the energy increase; it’s also the impact of inflation affecting the cost of materials, transport and labour. Another issue is how the cost of living is affecting the ability to recruit, as people are not wanting to enter a sector where the pay is so limiting.” Both she and MA Director Sharon Heal are calling for a cultural recovery package similar to the offer during the pandemic. Orrell adds ”other businesses [in other sectors] are in a stronger position because they’re regarded as valuable. We need to be seen as essential. Not as a cost.”  AIM, Art Newspaper (Lisa Ollerhead from 24mins in), Apollo, Heritage Alliance