The British Museum.

Strings Attached: UK Warns Museums to Adopt Profit-Driven Approach or Lose Funding

According to a letter from UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden leaked to The Art Newspaper this morning, the government has told British museums they must “take as commercially-minded an approach as possible, pursuing every opportunity to maximize alternative sources of income.” Dowden warned museum directors that if they did not, he would not be in a position to make the case for any further financial support for the sector.

The threat follows a $2 billion support package for arts and heritage institutions announced in July. That funding, of which some $133 million was directed toward Britain’s 15 national museums, earned widespread praise, with the institutions receiving an amount 25 percent greater than that allotted in a typical year.

In the letter, Dowden, who has urged the public to get out and visit the UK’s newly reopened, albeit “quieter” museums, suggested that institutions raise funds through “hospitality [and] trading activities” and by “monetizing digital offers,” which The Art Newspaper noted sounded suspiciously like a call to paywall museum websites.

British museums have suffered numerous funding cuts over recent years, and many generate the lion’s share of their income themselves. Chief among these is the Tate, which supplies 75 percent of its funding through its own efforts. However, many of these institutions, like their counterparts the world over, rely on tourists, particularly big spenders from outside their nation’s borders, to provide a significant share of their income. With Covid-19 continuing to spike in various countries, airlines cutting flights and staff, and tourism down globally, it seems unlikely that even the most shameful commercial pandering will result in packed museums anytime soon.

Also today, it was revealed that Dowden had also pressured the Museum of the Home, in London, to retain a statue of slaver Robert Geffrye; Dowden urged museum officials to remain “mindful” of the fact that the institution is a “government-funded organization.” Whether the country’s museums will receive future dictates from the culture ministry regarding funding requirements remains to be seen.