06 Nov

Do regional museums care about the money?

Maurice Davies

There’s good news for the English regions in the recent report into arts funding from the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee. It states unequivocally that they are underfunded and that Arts Council should do something about it, quick.

Arts Council chair Peter Bazalgette agrees things need to change, but rather feebly says it’s all a bit tricky and it will take a long time – unless he gets more money. He also tries to give the impression that the Arts Council is increasing the proportion of funds it spends regionally, albeit slowly. However, independent analysis in the PLACE report suggests that may not be the case: arts funding may in fact be as unfair as ever.

One thing we do know is that museum funding is massively skewed in favour of London. That’s not the Arts Council’s fault at all, rather it’s because of direct Culture Department funding to the national museums, most of which are located in London, for perfectly understandable historical reasons.

So, the target of regional museums should be DCMS. In this, Arts Council could potentially be an ally, as could local authorities, universities and local MPs. There is an opening now in light of the Select Committee’s call for the Culture Department to create an arts policy and to have grown-up conversations with local authorities, the often unsung heroes of support for most major museums outside London.

The Select Committee report is seminal and the timing is perfect, with the general election just months away and all main political parties in internal chaos.

Now is exactly the time for regional museums to quickly build a strong campaign, working with arts colleagues, to argue for more government money. The key aim should be to get a few dozen backbench MPs engaged actively. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are all desperate to keep their backbenchers onside. It’s hard to do this around issues like migration and HS2, but improving regional arts funding would be an easy way to cheer up grumpy MPs – if only museums put the effort into making the MPs grumpy in the first place.

But the silence from regional museums and arts heads has been deafening. As far as I can tell, apart from Peter Wilson, chief exec of the Norwich Theatre Royal, there’s nothing from them in the national and regional media; there’s not even much on Twitter (unless I follow all the wrong people).

That seems a little negligent, especially as several people have been speaking up for the status quo. Mayor of London Boris Johnson and his team have been all over the place, peddling dodgy facts and inconsistent arguments. (I had my first disinformation presentation from the Mayor’s office at an 8.30am meeting the day the report came out.)

For the National Museums Diane Lees got her arguments in early in an interview for Museums and Heritage. And the Arts Council don’t look likely to do very much very soon.

So, regional museum directors, boards and staff, It’s up to you to make your case.

I’d be delighted to give you more detailed advice how you could go about it.

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