Behind the scenes at the museum: the effects of the recession

  • 20 October 2009

As the realities of the recession hit home, visitors have taken refuge in Britain's museums and galleries over the summer. The Art Fund's second nationwide museums and galleries survey shows that predictions of the Great British "Staycation" proved accurate with half of UK museums and galleries seeing an increase in visitors between March and September 2009, including a fifth of museums who saw a rise in visitors of over 10%.

The survey carried out by The Art Fund, the UK’s independent art charity, found that whilst public funding, investment income and corporate spending had all dropped in the last six months, overall income for museums and galleries is currently holding steady due to the rise in visitor spending in museum shops and cafes. Free entry proved a draw to cash-strapped families as 60% of those museums seeing an increase in visitors offer free admission to their permanent collections. But an increase in people holidaying at home, overseas tourists lured by a weak pound and the pull of strong exhibitions were also positive factors.

However, there is cause for concern amongst museums and galleries. A quarter of all publicly funded museums saw cuts in funding but those museums funded by a Local Authority were clearly worse off with over a third experiencing cuts. National museums were badly hit by the fall in investment income with two thirds of those responding to the survey experiencing a decrease, and in almost every case the drop was greater than 10%.

Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund says: “It’s clear that when times are tough our cultural institutions provide both a great value for money experience and a distraction from financial worries, so it is worrying to see that investment in museums and galleries appears to be drying up just at the point that they have the most to offer people. We need to be vigilant to ensure that the quality of what our museums and galleries can offer does not suffer as a result of their need to economise.”