In the last few weeks, the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed their doors to visitors for the foreseeable future. Since then, we have seen museums and galleries across the UK all follow suit in order to protect the welfare of their staff and visitors.
While entirely necessary, this response to the coronavirus pandemic has put unparalleled pressure on the cultural sector. Unsurprisingly, museums, galleries and other attractions rely heavily on visitor income and fundraising in order to survive. For even for the most popular sites, the need to close their doors so unexpectedly puts their very existence at risk.
The innovation some have shown in the face of this is impressive: the V&A has invited people to watch its ‘Secrets of the Museum’ TV series to get up close to the collection, the Royal Academy of Arts has continued to engage it’s audience through a distinctive social media strategy and the Natural History Museum’s wealth of research and collections data is still available to all. Like businesses in other sectors, the ability to adapt has been extraordinary.
For other cultural organisations though, namely those which are smaller and independent, without sustained Government funding, their annual income is now at such a risk that they may never be able to open their doors again.
The UK has more than 1,600 independent museums, amounting to half of the museum sector. Thousands more theatres, galleries, dance companies and other organisations also exist. Many of them now find the clock is ticking on their survival. Their infrastructure and limited cash reserves mean they will not necessarily be able to endure these few months of enforced closure. Many museums are already having difficulty in caring for their collections and redundancies are taking place across the sector.
The Government has a responsibility to help preserve the cultural sector. Existing funds need to be repurposed and grants, not loans, need to be available in order to cover salaries, alternative programming or the costs of collection care. These organisations play a significant role in their communities, contributing not only to the tourism economy but demonstrating clear educational value and a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Without the right support, all of this will be lost.
For more information, please contact a member of Berwick Partners Charity, Arts, Culture and Heritage Practice.