In a major pre-election debate held at the Wallace Collection in London on 9 March, two UK national museum directors have condemned goverment cuts in arts funding. David Anderson, the director general of National Museum Wales, which is funded by the Welsh government, and the outgoing president of the Museums Association Christoph Vogtherr, have both come forward to express their concern.
The director of the Wallace Collection, Christoph Vogtherr made his position known in equally strong terms. The Wallace Collection is funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, receiving £2.9 million every the financial year. Vogtherr added that the Wallace’s government grant has fallen by almost 40% over the past five years.
Vogtherr statement followed a letter from the culture department saying that it wants to “explore financing models that are less reliant on grant-in-aid” on the same day as the debate. The department is also asking the Wallace Collection for data that would be helpful in winning support for Treasury spending on museums.
This would include information on the “economic and social benefits, support for the UK brand [for tourism] and value for money” provided by museums. Vogtherr added that he had never once seen the word “art” used in a letter from the culture department in his four years as director.
Anderson also stated that the current crisis as “severe”. The cuts in funding over the last five years from both national and local government have proven very damaging; with the strong likelihood of continued cuts, Austerity is killing many local museums,” he added.
But Anderson does not believe that private philanthropic acts can make up for the shortfall, since 70% of these donations go to museums in London, and not those in the English regions, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. “There is an urgent need for additional funding. The cultural funding model we have is failing.”
There is also concern over increasing privatisation of the cultural sector, citing the example of English Heritage, Vogtherr cited that its 400 properties open to the public will be hived off into a charity, this is occurring from April 1st . An act that is intended to make cutltural bodies self-sufficient and lose there government funding after a seven-year transitional period.
Other speakers in the debate, chaired by Fiammetta Rocco of the Economist, were Robert Hewison, a cultural historian, and Maria Balshaw, the director of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery.