British Art Museums Hit by Funding Cuts
Sir David Cannadine’s ‘Why Collect?’ report, published last Thursday, warns of the disastrous effect that lack of funding may have on art collections in British museums.
By Francesca White
Sir David Cannadine’s shocking report on behalf of the Art Fund and in collaboration with the Wolfson Foundation, paints a depressing picture for its readers. In sharp contrast to the British government’s 2017 Mondoza report on the same topic, Cannadine stresses the negative impact that continued reduction of funding is having on our museums, warning that they will become “inert and lifeless” unless more money is available to allow museums to evolve their collections. In England, galleries and museums have felt the consequence of a 13 per cent decrease in funding in the past 10 years, with spending cut from £829m in 2007 to £720m in 2017. The decline is feared to be worse in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and predicted to worsen in the coming years.
While the British phenomenon of spending as little as possible on the arts is as old as the museums themselves, art works are increasingly fetching astronomical prices. The result is a widening gap between what British art museums can afford to pay and the price the world’s billionaires are prepared to pay. To put Cannadine’s findings in perspective and highlight this disjuncture, the total government funding for all museums and galleries in England in 2016-2017 is less than double the price the Emirates’ Culture Ministry paid for Leonardo's Salvator Mundi alone, which is heading to its new home at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The result of such cuts, Cannadine suggests, is not simply that British institutions are struggling to buy works of the highest calibre, but that any collecting at all has become something of a marginal activity, particularly outside London.
In addition to this, cuts are having other negative consequences on our art museums. Perhaps of particular interest for future History of Art graduates is that curators’ salary levels are now ‘7% lower than the market average in comparable sectors, rising to 25% below market rate for junior roles in collections and curating management’, with Cannadine equating sector morale to that of Thatcher’s era. In addition, recent cuts are increasingly meaning ‘reducing opening hours, cancelling outreach work, and losing professional expertise, such as replacing permanent posts with short-term roles, or professional posts with unpaid posts’. Cannadine’s report came just days before the first planned closure of its kind at the National Portrait Gallery on the 19th February. The National Portrait Gallery was shut to the public for the day, for the first time in 162 years, for a private fashion show featuring designer, Erdem Moralioglu’s work, exemplifying the increasing lengths museums are going to in order to self-fund in light of government cuts. All of this comes at a time when, Cannadine suggests, government and public expectations for museums are higher than ever.
Cannadine’s report also contains nine case studies, showing the transformative effects new acquisitions can have on art museums. Among them, he highlights Glasgow Museums’ acquisition of contemporary Indian art, which has engaged more of the city’s multicultural communities, and the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, whose acquisition of contemporary Australian art has shed light on, and created discussion around, colonial depictions of Aboriginal culture from the middle of the 19th century.
In a period of increasing cuts in all sectors, Cannadine’s call for more funding is without doubt contentious. The report is important, however, in highlighting the founding principles upon which our art museums and galleries were founded-- that of enjoyment and education-- are being deeply undermined by government cuts. What we do about this, if anything at all, remains to be seen.
To read Sir David Cannadine’s full report, visit here.
Betts, Hannah. "Why the National Portrait Gallery was right to close for a fashion show." The Telegraph. February 22, 2018. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/national-galleries-crisis-not-fast-please-sort-outthe-ghastly/.
Brown, Mark. "UK Museum Collecting at Risk from Lack of Funding, Report Warns." The Guardian. February 15, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/feb/15/uk-museum-collecting-risk-from-lack-funding-sir-david-cannadine-report-warns.
Cannadine, David. "Why Collect?" Art Fund and the Wolfson Foundation , 2018.