Culture: Museums to Close as Funding Crisis Deepens; Yet Another Warning Has Been Sounded for the Future of Regional Museums. Terry Grimley Tests the Local Reaction
Byline: Terry Grimley
Last year was London's year with the opening of the Tate Modern (left) and above, will the New Art Gallery, Walsall lead the way for a decade of the regions?
The most striking thing is that everyone in London is having pounds 9 per head spent on museums, while in the West Midlands we're getting 15p. It's absolutely pathetic - why do we only deserve 15p?
A crisis is looming for regional museums, with some facing closure, according to a report just published by the Policy Studies Institute.
Its author, Adrian Babbidge, director of the East Midlands Museums Service, calculates that lottery-funded projects have added pounds 29 million a year in running costs to the regional museum sector, at a time when local authority funding is in decline and museums are having to compete with a widening range of leisure attractions to maintain their market share.
He predicts that some museums will be forced to close and collections will be 'warehoused'.
The report shows the dramatic contrasts in annual public spending on museums throughout the country. In London and the south east the figure is pounds 9.59 per head of population, compared to just 15 pence in the West Midlands and sixpence in the East Midlands.
The north does better, with pounds 1.47 in Yorkshire and pounds 2.63 for the North West, where Liverpool's museums, unlike Birmingham's, are funded by the Government.
The pounds 300,000 of National Lottery money spent in the regions, which might have redressed years of underfunding, have instead been used to provide expensive new buildings. Some of these projects like the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield and the Life Force Centre in Bradford, built at a cost of pounds 15 million and pounds 5 million respectively have already closed (the latter after attracting just 62 paying visitors in its first week).
The report received a welcome, with some reservations, from museum professionals in the West Midlands yesterday, even though it comes after the setting up of a task force to look into the needs of regional museums by culture secretary, Chris Smith.
'This isn't really new,' said Jonathan Bryant, director of the Discovery Centre at Birmingham's Millennium Point, due to open in September.
'When I was chairman of the Association of Independent Museums in 1998 we commissioned a report called New Visions for Museums in the 21st Century which charted a decline in the number of average visits from 76,000 to 42,000 over a 20 year period as a result of a static number of visitors being stretched over a larger number of attractions.
'I think inevitably some museums will go to the wall, but going to the wall needs to be planned because you're talking about important material collections. The possible answers we came up with in 1998 were to do with potential collaborations between museums. Possibly they could share some curatorial staff, or do they really need two sets of accountants? …