Art Fund Say Museums Still Need More Funding To Buy Objects

By Katie Allen | 17 May 2006
a dark oil painting showing seventeenth century Dutch people outside a house

Jan Steen (1625 – 1679) The Burgher of Delft and His Daughter, (1655) sold for £8.1m. The painting was export stopped by the government in May 2004 and although the National Museum Wales considered launching a bid to purchaseit, it decided it was far beyond their means. Picture DCMS.

The Art Fund, the independent charity that offers help to museums in acquiring works of art, says there is a funding crisis for museum acquisitions and the Government is continuing to fail to recognise the importance of collecting.

The comments come on the back of an Art Fund review of museum and gallery collecting activity, which it published on May 11 2006. The Collecting Challenge:The Art Fund Museum Survey 2006 shows that 70% of UK museums and galleries rely on acquiring objects mainly or solely by gift and that only 2% of UK museums cite collecting as a top priority.

“These figures for the first time put real facts behind concerns we and the sector have had for some time,” said David Barrie, the Art Fund’s Director. “Collections are at the heart of museums - they must be continually enriched and renewed to keep our museums vibrant and appealing, to educate and inform now and in the future.”

Findings from the report have lead to fears in some quarters that the collecting habit is dying out, resulting in the stagnation of museums and galleries, the loss of significant objects and the draining of curatorial expertise. In recent years, says the report, funding has been too focused on education, access and social inclusion.

According to the Art Fund’s findings, 96% of all types of museums felt that inadequate core funding seriously prohibited collecting new items, resulting in 60% unable to allocate any income at all last year for collecting.

a head and shoulders photograph of a man wearing a white shirt and dark jacket

David Barrie has called for more public money to be made available for museums to build on their collections via the Heritage Lottery Fund and through tax incentives. © The Art Fund

Research by the Art Fund has also uncovered a seemingly wide disparity between levels of collecting activity across different regions. London remains the richest, whilst the East Midlands, East of England and West Midlands are the poorest. The national museums, most of which are based in the capital, purchased more than three times the volume of objects than all other types of museums put together.

The findings brought a swift response from the Government, with Minister for Culture David Lammy defending Government spending on museums and galleries during an interview on BBC Radio 4.

“(the) Department for Culture Media and Sport has increased the money that we spend on museums by 42% since 1997,” the Minister told the PM programme on May 15. “It’s £300 million - it’s a lot of money.”

Mr Lammy also rejected the idea of a Government administered acquisitions fund. “What we would be doing is going back to a situation that was pre 1992,” he said. “Now since that point we’ve got the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has committed more than a billion pounds to museums and certainly £140 million to acquisitions.”

“We’ve got the National Heritage Memorial Fund which is doubling to £10 million next year, and we’ve got museums in a healthier position raising money themselves, raising over £100 million in commercial activities. That’s the backdrop and that’s why you can see acquisitions flourishing and seeing things in our museums.”

The Minister was responding to points put over by the Art Fund Director, David Barrie, on the same programme. Mr Barrie had called for more public money to be made available for museums to build on their collections via the Heritage Lottery Fund and through tax incentives.

“We believe it’s a scandal that there is not more public money available for that purpose,” Mr Barrie told the programme. “Ironically all that outreach and social inclusion agenda is going to become extremely difficult to deliver if museum collections end up stagnant, and if curatorial talent of the kind that is needed continues to be lost.”

a painting of several prostrated figures with a further figure rising like a ghost from their bodies

Death of the Strong Wicked Man from Designs for Blair's Grave by William Blake was auctioned by Sotheby's New York and was acquired by the Louvre in Paris. Picture courtesy Sotheby's

Mr Barrie also highlighted what he sees as the plight of the UK’s smaller museums, which he described as being “starved of funding,” and “literally dying on their feet.”

Beyond the Art Fud research, recent events have given succour to the Art Fund’s arguments. At the beginning of May 2006, a collection of rare William Blake watercolours was broken up at auction. Despite the government’s Export Reviewing Committee granting an export bar on the items, Tate was unable to raise the £8.8m to buy them.

The paintings are just one of several items highlighted by The Art Fund as the ‘ones that got away. Others include Jan Steen’s The Burgher of Delft and His Daughter, some rare German armour dating to 1655 and Stanhope Forbes’ painting The Seine Boat, (1904). The items were tracked unsuccessfully by National Museum Wales, Royal Armouries, Leeds and Penlee House Museum and Galley respectively.

Since the BBC radio programme aired Mr Barrie has kept up the argument for more money for museum acquisitions from the pages of Art Fund website. “There hasn’t been extra cash for collecting, which is the issue at stake,” he said. “Our five national museums, for example, now spend 90% less from their government grants on collecting than they did 10 years ago.”

"We aren’t saying HLF hasn’t helped with acquisitions. We’re saying it’s helping far less: 10 years ago it spent £18 million, last year it spent £2.3 million – less than The Art Fund. In any case, Lottery money was supposed to be additional to public money, not a substitute for it."

The Art Fund director also pointed out that they are not actually calling for a new acquisitions fund. “We’re calling on government to recognise the importance of collecting and to adequately fund this through the bodies which already exist,” he said.

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections and campaigns widely on behalf of museums and their visitors. In 2005 The Art Fund was the main source of funding for new acquisitions and offered over £4.1 million to museums and galleries and distributed 12 gifts and bequests.

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