Two-thirds of UK museums directors warn of funding shortfalls

© Victoria and Albert Museum London_The Ruddock Family Cast Court

© Victoria and Albert Museum London_The Ruddock Family Cast Court

A recent report by Art Fund finds that museum directors in the United Kingdom are concerned about funding shortfalls despite a rise in visitor numbers following the Covid pandemic. The research also shows that organisations need a 10-20% increase in funding just to stabilise.

The annual Museum Directors Research found that although 51% of respondents have seen a rise in commercial income in the past year only 15% had seen local authority investment increase. In contrast, 28% said they had seen the latter decrease and 4% has seen it stop altogether.

Rachael Browning, the Art Fund’s director of programmes and policy, said “The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on staff and audiences is recognised as the biggest collective challenge facing organisations. Outgoings are just half of the problem; falling income is also a huge worry.”

An article published by the UK Museums Association further states that there is an increasing focus on local audiences and community partnerships with schools, young people, ethnically-diverse audiences and those from lower socio-economic groups. Tourist audiences, both international and domestic, are more of a priority for museums in Northern Ireland than those in other parts of the UK.

Browning says that despite the difficult funding context, museum directors are thinking imaginatively and ambitiously about how they can use their collections.

The research shows that 95% of museum respondents will be developing temporary exhibitions in 2024/25, with 40% extending opening dates to save money and 62% reusing or recycling exhibition materials.

Understaffing (61% of respondents) and lack of funding (56%) are the key barriers to undertaking collections work according to respondents, with activities such as digitisation, collections reviews and new acquisitions taking a back seat.

Looking forward to next year, Art Fund identified a number of key challenges including:

  • The cost-of-living crisis, which is particularly impacting independent museums and others that charge for entry or rely on secondary spend.
  • Continuing local authority spending cuts leading to the closure of services.
  • Building maintenance and building operating costs.