Making the most of your museums: a handbook for councillors 4 Jul 2019

Arts Council England and the Local Government Association have collaborated on a new handbook for councillors to guide them in shaping plans for local authority run museums. It includes case studies highlighting operating models, partnership working and the value of museums towards broader social ends. These include:

  • Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council which is responsible for five sites attracting 1.2m visitors each year. It recently increased funding to the museums service by £100k while also reducing the barriers to sites running more commercial operations. The result has been more income, including £250k generated at Elsecar Heritage Centre.
  • Manchester Museum's 'A Rubbish Night at the Museum' provided community leadership with an attractive evening event which led residents to consider the complex causes of rubbish in the city. As well as 300 people at the event itself, it gained much wider traction through media coverage.
  • Bath Museums Partnership, a coalition of 13 museums, has been working since 2015 to produce a more coherent joint offer to the city's visitors. The result has been a 63% increase in the number of attractions visited per tourist.
  • The Kirkleatham Museum's Forward Plan is a case study of how to make a strategic plan against the backdrop of cuts. The report comments that "there is a strong sense that the museum profile has been raised internally and externally, and that the council now owns the museum in a way which was not recognised before."

In his introduction, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA's Culture, Tourism and Sport Board says that museums can help with a whole range of civic plans, from developing cultural quarters to public health issues such as Alzheimers, or community cohesion, but adds: "if they are to do all this, then we have a responsibility to ensure they are given the political direction they need to prioritise their work; give them the freedom to communicate their offer on websites and social media; and empower them to seek the right training and networks to help them to be more commercial, innovative and creative." LGA