Sunday, 18 February 2018

Why Collect?, a report on museum collecting in the UK

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
A new report out reveals the dire situation of museums in the UK (Art Fund and Wolfson Foundation publish Why Collect?, a report on museum collecting in the UK, Art Fund 15 February 2018). In the report, which calls for increased investment in museums and their collections, its principle author, historian Sir David Cannadine highlights a 13% fall in public spending on museums and galleries in England from 2007 to 2017, the imbalance of funding for museums inside and outside London, the poor salaries in the sector and the pressures faced by the Heritage Lottery Fund because of declining National Lottery income.
The report highlights the ever-widening gap between the spiralling prices of works on the international art market and the limited acquisition funds available to museums and galleries in the UK. It calls for increased investment in museums and their collections, as public spending on museums has decreased by 13% in real terms over the last decade. It is, writes Cannadine, a report that 'instead of giving comfort and reassurance, expresses anxiety and concern.' Cannadine's analysis of museum and gallery collecting traces its history from the 1830s to the present day and is accompanied by 11 case studies which explore various facets of the social and cultural impact of collecting. This is supported by statistical evidence from a national survey involving 266 collecting institutions. The report was undertaken to address the question of how, why and on what scale publicly funded museums and galleries continue to expand their collections. 
The report also discusses the question of  museum collecting and display and notes
- Many museums and galleries only display a fraction of their holdings – often less than 10% – and the report references recent arguments for making their stored collections more publicly available [...]
-  The digital revolution has enabled entire collections to be accessed and viewed online and ‘the more that we can learn about collections from exploring them online, the more we are likely to want to go and visit them in situ’.
- Only half of the 266 UK museums and galleries surveyed, had a specific budget allocation for collecting, and in most cases it was rarely more than 1% of the overall amount that was spent. Although almost all of the respondents had been able to add objects to their collections over the last five years, gifts and bequests were the most frequently used methods. The survey results demonstrated that, except in the case of the national museums, collecting for most museums and galleries is no more than a marginal activity.
The report criticised Northampton Museum and Art Gallery’s sale of its Egyptian statue of Sekhemka. Northampton “was a complete override of all of our professional standards ... it was an absolute tragedy in terms of damaging public trust for the rest of us. It will take a long time to forgive them.”

The problem caused by metal detecting Treasure hunters and the rising costs of antiquities through artefact hunters flogging off their finds is not mentioned. Only case study five - the Staffordshire Hoard touches on the issue:
Within four months of valuation the funds for the joint purchase had been raised, and the Hoard was formally acquired in June 2010. A public fundraising campaign led by Art Fund raised £900,000, the largest amount ever given by the public to a heritage appeal; a third of donors were from the West Midlands, indicating the regional pride felt for the endeavour. Support also came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£1.285m) and Art Fund with the support of the Wolfson Foundation (£300,000), with a further £600,000 from trusts and foundations, £100,000 from Birmingham City Council, £100,000 from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, £80,000 from Staffordshire County Council, £20,000 from Lichfield District Council and £20,000 from Tamworth Borough Council. 
Obviously the few dozen cases (assiduously chronicled by Bloomsbury's Treasure Registrar to create a rosy picture of their 'partners', the Treasure hunters) is just a drop in the bottomless bucket of funds-gobbling treasure hunters, taking money from the purchase of other items.

The report is also discussed by the Arts correspondent for the Guardian (Mark Brown, 'UK museum collecting at risk from lack of funding, report warnsInvestigation by Sir David Cannadine for Art Fund paints ‘deeply depressing’ picture' Guardian Thu 15 Feb 2018)

You can download the full report here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

May I make a personal point?
"a third of donors were from the West Midlands, indicating the regional pride felt for the endeavour."

An appeal to "Regional pride" has been encouraged in such cases for about ten years as a fundraising aid. It's pretty artificial in my opinion and I don't think Stoke or Birmingham have reason to be "proud" of something found at Hammerwich, many miles from both.

The truth is that by encouraging such feelings many a pensioner and child in the area has been encouraged to donate on the basis of a false sense of local connection. And for why? Because obscene amounts of money have to be raised to "reward" people for what wasn't and never will be theirs.

Rightness ought to dictate that fundraisers desist from saying donors would be helping to "save" an object and explaining to them they needed to pay because the finder, who didn't own a molecule of the Treasure, insisted. Museum fundraisers carefully avoid calling treasure finders heroes, good, but they ought to go further and explain what this anti-hero will do with the find if he doesn't get his ransom.

As you see, I think the fundraising following Treasure finds is a pretty grubby, dishonest affair.

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