Temperature limits for storing museum items suspended

The interior of a museum
20 Dec 2022

Minimum temperature requirement for storing loaned cultural items insured through government scheme is suspended in the wake of rising energy costs.

National Portrait Gallery to reopen next June

15 Dec 2022

The National Portrait Gallery will reopen to the public on 22 June next year following major restoration works.

The gallery has been closed since June 2020, undergoing the most extensive redevelopment of its building since 1896 which has cost in excess of £35m.

While it has been closed, it has lent hundreds of portraits to galleries and organisations across the UK.

When the gallery reopens, visitors will be greeted by a renewed display of the collection, as well as a refurbished building, a new ticket booking office on Irving Street and improved accessibility through a new entrance on Ross Place.

The works have also included an additional wing to the gallery, following a £10m donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

“As we approach 2023, the countdown to our reopening after the largest and most comprehensive redevelopment in our history has well and truly begun,” National Portrait Gallery Director Dr Nicholas Cullinan said.

We eagerly look forward to welcoming visitors back into our transformed gallery in June.”

Sunderland Museum secures redevelopment funds

14 Dec 2022

Plans for a multi-million pound transformation of one Sunderland’s main cultural attractions have moved forward after funding was secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens has secured £299,425, which will be matched by the City Council, to further develop proposals for a major revamp of the venue. This will include moving the museum’s main entrance, and a redesign of  the ground floor to include a central atrium, new galleries and a learning and engagement zone.

Meanwhile, programming will be adapted towards more family-focused activities and exhibitions, including a programme complementing the Winter Gardens with a focus on the natural world, biodiversity and climate change. 

Sunderland City Council says it is aiming to apply for a full National Heritage Lottery grant of £5m in 2024 to carry out the work..

“This is all about transforming, re-energising and rejuvenating Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens in line with what our residents and visitors have told us they want to see,” said Linda Williams, Cabinet Member for Vibrant City at Sunderland City Council.

“We want to make sure that the whole museum is a modern, accessible, bright and innovative space that shows off our rich and vibrant stories to everyone near and far.”

She added that a major part of the project will involve updating the story of Sunderland to “better reflect our communities, who we are, and where we come from”.

Rebecca Ball, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, said the work “will help ensure the museum is able to continue to develop new and innovative ways to both safeguard and share the city's stories for all our communities”.

UK museum artworks to be shared through new data service

12 Dec 2022

A UK-wide Museum Data Service is to be established to pool records on millions of objects so they can be shared for research and public use.

The initiative, a three-way partnership between Art UK, Collections Trust and the University of Leicester is scheduled to launch in autumn 2023.

Art UK, which already brings more than 300,000 artworks, from 3,400 collections, to an online audience of more than 4.5 million people each year, said the new data service will allow it to scale up its operation adding millions more artworks over time.

The work, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, will also involve the creation of a new state-of-the-art e-commerce platform which it is hoped will support Art UK collection partners to substantially grow commercial income from their image assets.

Andrew Ellis, Director of Art UK, said: “The benefits to our audiences and participating collections will be significant in terms of the growth in artworks joining Art UK and the growth in commercial income. 

"But the real excitement here is to be working with Collections Trust and the University of Leicester on such a transformational initiative for the wider sector, one that will do so much to reduce silos and grow knowledge sharing”.

Museums regain accrediation following sale of artefact

08 Dec 2022

Two museums in Northampton have regained full accreditation from Arts Council England, eight years after the controversial sale of an ancient Egyptian statue for nearly £16m.

The Northampton Chronicle reports that following the sale of the 4,000-year-old Sekhemka statue in 2014, which saw the current Lord Northampton Spencer Compton receive around £6 million and the Northampton Borough Council receive the rest, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery's accreditation was stripped on ethical grounds.

The sale was widely condemned in the art world and the council was removed from the Museums Association, making them ineligible to apply for funding.

Abington Park Museum also had its accreditation stripped as it was under the ownership of the council. But both museums have now regained it.

Nick Gordon, Cultural Services Manager at West Northamptonshire Council, said:  “The Council is really pleased and it has been a lot of work to get to this point. The loss has really had an impact and we hope to move things on and leave the past behind us now.

“We are under completely different administration now and we have learnt from what was done through the consequences. We want to put this to bed and face the future, but not forget.”

Deadline extended for museums' VAT refund scheme

08 Dec 2022

The closing date for a government scheme allowing museums and galleries to claim a VAT refund has been extended by two months.

The scheme, which has been running since 2001, is open to any museum or gallery that provides free access to the public for at least 30 hours a week. It last accepted new applicants in 2018/19.

Institutions eligible for the scheme are entitled to a refund on VAT incurred on goods and services purchased in order to facilitate free admission. The scheme reopened for applications in October, with an original deadline of 3 January 2023.

The closing date has now been extended by two months to 5pm Wednesday 1 March 2023.

Museums to benefit from £4m improvement fund

06 Dec 2022

Museums and galleries across England are receiving a share of £4m to improve displays, protect collections and make exhibitions more accessible to visitors.

The funding is available through the latest round of the Galleries Improvement Fund, administered by DCMS and Wolfson Museums. It has been split between 33 museums in total, 26 of which are outside London.

Beneficiaries include the People’s History Museum in Manchester, which will receive £214,300 to improve access to the museum for people with disabilities, and New Forest’s National Motor Museum, which will use its £200,000 grant to install new heating and lighting to improve environmental performance.

The largest grant (£254,900) went to County Durham’s Bowes Museum to develop four new gallery spaces. Executive Director Hannah Fox said the funding will “play a significant role in enhancing the Museum’s relationship and place within the local community”.

DCMS Arts Minister Lord Parkinson said all awards “will help people who may have previously found visiting museums and galleries difficult and make sure everyone can enjoy and engage with the wonderful collections and exhibitions they offer”.
 
“With 80% of the money going to museums outside the capital, this funding is further evidence of the government’s commitment to levelling up and widening access to culture,” he added.

Nottingham Castle staff made redundant

05 Dec 2022

All staff at Nottingham Castle Trust have been made redundant after the trust entered liquidation

According to the Museums Association, 47 members of staff have lost their jobs with some still waiting on their final wages. It is expected many will be ineligible for redundancy payments, having only worked there for a short period.

Liquidation company Interpath Advisory has been appointed to see the trust through the closing of the business.

The trust ran the Nottingham Castle museum and heritage site on behalf of Nottingham City Council. The trust was £2.68m in debt and had loans from the council, which will now be written off.

A council spokesperson has confirmed it stopped funding the trust before its closure as “there [was] no prospect of a financial return”.

They added the council intends to reopen the venue as soon as possible.

“Once we have a clearer picture from the liquidators, we will explore all available options together with our key partners the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and others to develop a fresh business model,” the spokesperson said.

Galleries most concerned by staffing issues and rising costs

30 Nov 2022

The leading concerns for art galleries in the UK in the coming year are staffing issues and rising costs, a new survey has revealed.

The Heritage Risk Barometer 2022, published by Ecclesiastical, a specialist heritage insurer, identified the top four concerns over the next 12 months as the recruitment and retention of volunteers (cited by 81% of respondents), increasing costs (78%), recruitment and retention of staff (77%) and crime (77%).

The survey aimed to identify the top risks within the heritage sector, focusing on concerns including the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, the recruitment crisis and responding to climate change. 

Over the next three years, the top concerns for galleries were identified as competition from other types of attraction (79%), political uncertainty and the impact of changing government policy (79%) and the ease of access and adaptation for visitors with additional needs (79%).

In the longest-term outlook, covering the next five years, concerns remained focused on staffing and running costs, with 90% of respondents citing recruitment and retention of volunteers as their biggest concern. 

Other long-term concerns included maintaining and repairing heritage buildings (78%), the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on visitor numbers (76%) and lack of diversity among trustees and management boards (76%). 

“The arts sector is facing unprecedented economic uncertainty as inflation and the cost of living soars,” said Faith Kitchen, Customer Segment Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance. 

“Art galleries are having to face huge challenges and many are looking at ways they can cut costs while still maintaining visitor numbers. We hope the Heritage Risk Barometer 2022 will help art galleries think about the risks they face and how best to protect their organisations for the future.”
 

British Council commits £14m to protect global heritage

30 Nov 2022

The British Council has announced £14m of funding to protect international heritage at risk from factors including conflict and climate change.

The funding will be distributed among 17 new projects over two-and-a-half years, through the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The projects receiving funding include a plan by Egyptian NGO Megawra to revive and protect two Islamic monuments in Cairo, where rising temperatures and excessive flooding are damaging buildings and infrastructure. 

“From the conservation of 13th century manuscripts in Gaza, to preserving buildings in Cairo, it is vital we do our utmost to protect precious global heritage at risk due to climate change and conflict,” said Arts Minister Lord Parkinson.

The British Council received an unprecedented level of high-quality proposals for funding, said Stephanie Grant, Director of the Cultural Protection Fund.

“The selected projects represent a diverse range of approaches to protecting cultural heritage, but with a shared motivation to safeguard cultural heritage for future generations, tackle urgent global challenges and deliver positive societal and economic impact for local populations,” she said.

The British Council also announced that it will fund two year-long research fellowships on cultural relations and climate action, in partnership with the American University of Cairo, the Indian Institute of Technology and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.

Two early-career researchers from the global south will receive funding to undertake fellowships at the University of Cambridge.

Striking museum workers agree 10% pay deal

28 Nov 2022

Staff at the National Coal Mining Museum (NCMM) in Wakefield, Yorkshire, have called off further industrial action after agreeing to a pay rise of up to 10.5%.

Union members staged a five-day strike last month after receiving a pay offer that was less than half of the £2,000 increase they had requested in light of the cost-of-living crisis.

The museum has now offered full-time workers a revised pay settlement of £1,650 plus a one-off cost-of-living payment of £350, with part-time staff receiving a pro-rata increase.

The Museums Association says the increase will apply to around 100 staff, many of whom are ex-miners who work as guides.

Unison's Wakefield district Branch Secretary Sam Greenwood said: “Museum staff took a stand and have achieved a wage rise that goes some way towards helping them through the cost-of-living crisis.

“Thankfully now the museum and its employees can continue with their amazing work sharing the story of the region's substantial coal mining heritage for future generations to better understand and enjoy.”
 

Rise in English Heritage income and membership

23 Nov 2022

English Heritage recorded a 16% increase in income in the past year, according to the conservation charity’s annual report for 2021/22.

Its total income increased from £99.8m to £116m, while total expenditure was up from £37.4m to £42.4m.

The charity’s membership base reached almost 1.2m, including 422,000 new sign ups in 2021/22, which saw membership income rise from £37.4m to £42.4m.

English Heritage says some of its 400-plus sites posted record visitor numbers too, which has been attributed to an increase in staycations following the peak of the pandemic.

But the charity is aware financial challenges could be ahead. It says a £80m grant from Historic England – presented when English Heritage became a charity in 2015 – is almost spent, alongside a series of Covid recovery grants.

Chair Sir Tim Laurence said 2021/22 was a “year of learning to live with Covid-19”.

“We and the rest of the world will be dealing with the financial impacts of the pandemic and of the war in Ukraine for some time to come,” he added.

“But I have every confidence in our ability to rise to the challenge.”

English Heritage’s annual report also confirmed staff numbers dropped from 2,245 to 2,117, while its gender pay gap narrowed from 10.3% to 7.8%.

Operators of Nottingham Castle set for liquidation

21 Nov 2022

Nottingham Castle has closed to visitors after the trust responsible for its operation revealed it is about to enter liquidation. 

The Nottingham Post reports that Nottingham Castle Trust has started the process of appointing liquidators. 

A statement published today (21 November) by the trust's board said: "We are saddened and hugely disappointed to announce that today, Nottingham Castle Trust has begun the process of appointing liquidators. This is a heartbreaking day for trustees, our staff, visitors, and the city.

"Despite the immense dedication of staff and volunteers, the Castle is now closed to visitors."

Nottingham Castle reopened in June last year after a three-year renovation. The £30m project, which was partially funded with £8m loaned from the city council and £13m from a lottery grant, saw a new visitor centre and cafe added, with existing galleries refurbished.

National Trust’s commercial arm records financial growth

17 Nov 2022

The National Trust's commercial arm has posted strong financial results in its latest annual report following a string of staff cuts and shop closures.

The National Trust (Enterprises) Ltd, responsible for carrying out commercial trading to generate income for the National Trust, saw its turnover more than double from £26.2m in 2020/21 to £55.4m for the year ending 28 February 2022.

Its net profit was £11.7m, up from a £3.8m loss in 2020/21.

The results follow a restructure in its retail operations during the height of the pandemic in 2020/21, which saw staff numbers cut by 20% (equating to a £5.4m saving in staff costs) and the closure of 70 shops to "focus on a core retail estate of more profitable stores".

Sharon Pickford, National Trust Director of Support and Revenue and a Director for National Trust (Enterprises) Ltd, said the charity "had to make some tough choices to reduce [the] cost base to ensure we were able to weather the storms ahead".

"In 2021/22 we made a good recovery as our places started to reopen, however, we remain under our 2019/20 income by around £23m due to the current external climate."

The company’s annual report says visitor numbers increased by around seven million in 2021/22 compared with the previous year, with spend per visitor also recovering.

Spend per visitor rose from £1.06 to £1.45, while retail turnover increased by £17.3m, resulting in a £2.1m retail profit.

Staff shortages prompt closure of Bristol museums

16 Nov 2022

Bristol Museums has closed two of its six venues until April next year, due to a shortage of staff.

The Georgian House Museum and the Red Lodge Museum have closed early this year, the organisation announced on its website, citing staff shortages.

Both museums closed their doors on 11 November.

A statement said staff "will be working behind the scenes” to maintain the buildings and ready them for reopening in 2023.

Bristol Museums’ four other sites, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, M Shed, Blaise Museum and Bristol Archives will continue to operate as normal.

The closures follow Bristol City Council’s announcement of a 10% cut to the museums and archive budget earlier this year. A total of £436,000 was cut from the budget, as part of an attempt to balance the books and avoid cuts to frontline services, according to Bristol Live.
 

‘It’s about handing over power’

Visitors to an exhibition
09 Nov 2022

As Art Fund launches its new report on ethnic diversity in the curatorial workforce, Rachael Browning says it’s hard to overestimate the challenges entailed in compiling such a report. 

Museum of London marks closure with festival weekends

02 Nov 2022

The Museum of London will host two free weekend festivals ahead of its relocation project.

A family festival featuring arts, crafts and theatre will take place on the weekend of 26 and 27 November, followed by a festival of music on the weekend  of 3 and 4 December.

The museum will be open for over 24 hours for the first time in its history on the first week of December, before closing its doors at its London Wall site - its home for the last 45 years - for the final time.

The museum will reopen in 2026 as the London Museum in West Smithfield.

“Over 21 million people have visited our galleries to find out more about this great city, its history, and its people. We’re looking forward to one final hurrah before we continue the museum’s next chapter in our new location at West Smithfield,” Museum of London Director Sharon Ament said.

Museum staff strike over pay

31 Oct 2022

A museum in Wakefield was closed for several days last week after staff went on strike over pay.

Museums + Heritage Advisor reports that union members at the National Coal Mining Museum went on strike last Wednesday (26 October), with the industrial action concluded on Sunday (30 October).

Unison’s Wakefield branch secretary Sam Greenwood said 94.4% of members, on a turnout of 87.8%, had voted in favour of action.

“Last week we attended what we believed would be pay negotiations with the employer but museum representatives merely restated that pay offer that had previously been made and stated they were not prepared to improve upon it," he said.

“Inflation is currently at 10 per cent and the museum’s offer is less than half of that. Members don’t want to go on strike but the museum is leaving them with no choice.”
 

Symposium to explore artists' role in remembering history

28 Oct 2022

A one-day symposium is set to explore how museums and heritage sites can respond to commemorated and suppressed historic events through working with artists.

The Art of Remembering – Research, Action and Healing, organised by Arts&Heritage with Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice, will take place in Newcastle on 14 November.

The event will explore best practice when telling potentially difficult or contentious stories. It will also look at how museums and historic sites can work in partnership with artists and communities to connect past conflicts with today’s human rights movements.

“Museums and heritage sites often embody in their architecture and collections stories and events that can be traumatic for many, frequently these involve the stories of historically marginalised communities,” Arts&Heritage Executive Director Stephanie Allen said.

“I hope that curators, artists, researchers, and anyone involved with sharing forgotten histories will find the discussions at this event useful and that we will all learn together more about how we can collectively have nuanced yet potentially difficult conversations about our pasts.”

First country house for children opens

26 Oct 2022

The National Trust has opened what it says is the world’s first stately home entirely reimagined for children.

Sudbury Hall, a 17th-century country house in Derbyshire, has been redeveloped into the Children’s Country House after a two-and-a-half-year renovation project.

National Trust staff consulted with 100 young ambassadors, aged up to 12 years, to devise and test ideas for the property.

The Hall welcomed visitors for the first time last weekend. There are almost no ropes or barriers in the property, allowing visitors to explore the space freely, with colour coding to signal what objects can be touched.

The house features activities, games, a photo booth, children’s books and a shadow puppet theatre in various rooms. Children can learn the basics of heritage conservation in the pantry, which features an interactive display of heritage hazards.

National Trust Director of Curation and Experience said he hopes The Children’s County House “will spark a lifelong love of heritage in the children who step through its doors”.

“We try to be imaginative in how we interpret our places: trying new ideas, where it’s appropriate, to engage people’s different interests. But, as we’ve done at Sudbury Hall, we always do this through careful research, and with the utmost respect for the historic fabric we look after.”

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