Museum directors criticise MA President for comments on ACE museum funding 24 Oct 2014

20 museum directors have written to the Museums Journal to take issue with comments made by MA President David Anderson in an online article about Hard Facts to Swallow, a new report calling for reform to arts and culture funding in England. 

The letter outlines concerns about the MA's criticism of Arts Council England's funding for museums and argues that, whilst a rebalancing of cultural funding between London and the regions is required, the major crisis for regional museums is cuts to local authority funding. 

The full text of the letter, which can be seen on the MA website, reads:

As MPM directors and members of NMDC we wish to take issue with David Anderson's recent remarks in the online article above 'Independent report calls for review of Arts Council and cultural funding in England'. In it he says that ACE's funding of museums and the arts outside London remains 'rampantly unfair'; that the sale of the Egyptian statue by Northampton 'is yet more evidence of the funding firestorm that is now engulfing many publicly-funded museums in the English regions', and ‘the discordant sound you hear in the distance is that of ACE fiddling’. We are concerned that the MA President is using such strong language and that he is conflating several issues.

A fundamental point is that Arts Council does not fund the national museums and therefore its role in the London versus the regions argument with regards to museums is limited. All of ACE’s museums funding is spent regionally, directly through the MPM programme and via the Museum Development and Strategic Funding. Compared with other funders, ACE has reduced its grant to museums by less than 2% next year, which is considerably less than other sectors it funds. The major crisis facing regional museums in fact remains the on-going reductions by hard-pressed local authorities, who are their major funder.

We agree, as does ACE, that a rebalancing of funding between London and the regions is required, but we also feel that a gradual approach has to be taken. Simply arguing for significant further cutting of London-based institutions that serve national and international audiences, which have already had c.30% cuts in real terms to their grant-in-aid since 2010, is not a helpful strategy in a broad museum ecology. Our view is that ACE are a sympathetic funder of regional museums, and that we need to work closely with them to make the case for museums to local and national government in a financial situation which has seen museums in general cut no more than other local services.

At present, the President of the MA is not representing the views of many in the sector who run regional museums, and is damaging the credibility of the MA. We hope that he and the next President, as well as the new Director, will do much more to build bridges with others and to restore the MA's standing.

Sharon Ament, Director, Museum of London
Maria Balshaw, Director, Manchester City Galleries & Whitworth Art Gallery
Janet Barnes, Director, York Museums Trust
Vivienne Bennett, Director, Bristol Museums & Galleries
Tony Butler, Director, Derby Museums
Louise Connell, Director, Penlee House Galley & Museum, Lead Partner Cornwall Museums MPM
Richard Evans, Director, Beamish Museum
Camilla Hampshire, Director, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter
Tim Knox, Director, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Diane Lees, Director, Imperial War Museum & Chair, National Museum Directors’ Council
Andrew Lovett, Director, Black Country Living Museum
Nick Merriman, Director, Manchester Museum
Steve Miller, Director, Norfolk Museums Service
John Roles, Director, Leeds Museums and Galleries
Paul Smith, Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History (on behalf of Oxford MPM)
Nicholas Thomas, Director, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
Janet Vitmayer, Director, Horniman Museum & Gardens
Hilary Wade, Director, Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery
Ian Wall, Director, Royal Cornwall Museum
Gordon Watson, Director, Lakeland Arts Trust

Museums Journal