The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited the Ashmolean last week to discuss museum funding which is due to be cut during the current parliament as part of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
Hunt is attempting to encourage museums to sustain themselves by increasing private investment, drawing upon the business model of American cultural organisations which have vast endowments.
Hunt called these large endowments a ‘buffer’ which could protect museums in uncertain economic times despite low interest rates not enabling the endowments to grow significantly.
Hunt visited the Ashmolean’s new Ancient Egyptian gallery, a a £5 million project funded by a variety of donors, most significantly Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is reducing the financial support provided to the twenty museums it directly sponsors by 15% over the current parliament.
Although the Ashmolean is not on this list it does receive significant help from DCMS, notably with a £272,000 grant in 2009 from the DSMS/Wolfson foundation which is a joint venture between the government and the philanthropic Wolfson fund that gives grants to museums and galleries in England.
Hunt’s senior press officer told Cherwell “one of the Secretary of State’s top priorities now is to help the cultural sector to strengthen its capacity to fundraise and cultivate donors. DCMS has put a considerable amount of money towards developing a match-funding scheme to encourage private donations and establish endowments.”
This “Catalyst” scheme is aimed at “helping cultural organisations diversify their income streams and access more funding from private sources.”
Some museum campaigners however, are concerned that in the current economic climate, private donations will not be sufficient to keep museums solvent.
David Butler, Co-Chair Elect of Oxford University Labour Club, commented “whilst I accept that some cuts are necessary to museum funding as part of reducing the deficit, I am concerned that the Big Society will be unable to fill the gap.”
There is also a concern that while large museums like the Ashmolean will survive, smaller institutions will not be able to cope with the projected spending cuts.
An example of a threatened museum is the University’s Museum of the History of Science on Broad Street which suffered a crippling £105,000 cut from the Higher Education Funding Council for England last year.
Katie Allen, a second year English student commented, “Museums are a great source of learning and entertainment. If funding to them were to be cut much would be lost in the way of knowledge, experience, and culture. Most importantly, I hope that budget difficulties don’t mean that free access to these venerable institutions is challenged. I would love to work at a museum in the future and hope that cuts today don’t make that an impossibility.”