Policy & research

Results from our Covid-19 survey of museum directors

Art Fund’s recent survey of museum directors was designed to ensure our funding continues to meet the needs of museums and galleries as they emerge from the pandemic. Our director of programme and policy, Sarah Philp, shares a summary of our approach and findings....

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote the introduction to Art Fund’s first survey on the impact of Covid-19. At that time, our sector faced an unprecedented crisis. One year later and little has changed: across the UK, museums and galleries are only just starting to re-open, finances remain extremely precarious, and the future uncertain.

But, we know that so much has shifted too: it has been an extraordinary year for activism and social justice, digital creativity and engagement, and a renewed appreciation for the pleasure of a day out at a museum with people we love. Now, as we publish our second survey, our focus is on the future – not just on recovery and renewal, but on how the sector might reimagine its purpose and activities in a post-pandemic world.

This survey is not a repeat of last year’s. Working again with cultural consultants, Wafer Hadley, we wanted to understand the priorities for museums and galleries for 2021 and beyond. In all, 316 UK museum directors filled out an online questionnaire, and then a series of interviews and two focus groups allowed us to discuss many issues in greater depth.

We hope our findings will help not only inform Art Fund’s charitable programme, but also help other organisations, funders and agencies, across and beyond the sector, understand where our continued support is most needed.

The themes in this survey will not be a surprise to anyone working in museums and galleries. We knew already – and the results here reaffirm – that emergency funding had prevented catastrophe, and that sustained investment will be critical in rebuilding the sector. We also knew that while the opportunity to experiment with digital programmes had been enthusiastically and successfully embraced by many museums, being able to welcome visitors back through the doors remained a top priority – not only because visitors provide vital income, but because they bring museums and their collections to life.

What has emerged is a new model for the museum, one in which the physical space of the museum is no longer dominant. Instead, the museum is divided into three: on-site, online, and out in the community; each space equally important and informed by the other two.

Alongside this is new thinking about recovery: for many, a continual growth model is untenable, and the sector must ask instead what is sustainable, across these three spaces and for the long term. We hope that, through new grant funding to be launched shortly, Art Fund will be able to support museums to explore these spaces and questions.

We would like the thank our colleagues in museums and galleries across the UK who, at a point at which it felt like there was a new survey to fill out every other day, still took the time to answer our questions and have yet another Zoom meeting. It is a privilege to be part of a sector full of generous, creative, and dedicated people.

Click here to view the full results of the survey

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