Funding cuts have forced museums and galleries to employ more unpaid volunteers and reduce the numbers of museum professionals, affecting education and outreach programmes.

Museum invigilator on duty
Photo: 

francisco_osorio via Creative Commons CCby2.0

More than a third of museums and galleries were forced to cut their paid staff in the last year, primarily due to falling public investment. 49% received a cut in their overall income, putting services for vulnerable people and non-traditional audiences under threat. Funding cuts have affected half of all museums in the past year alone, forcing 47% to increase the number of unpaid volunteers and interns that they employ. Mark Taylor, Director of the Museums Association, said: “Interns and volunteers have plenty to offer, but can never replace skilled, experienced staff. We know museums’ public services are being hit and we are increasingly worried about the loss of specialist expertise and the long-term care of collections. It is outrageous that young people should be expected to work for nothing”. Unpaid internships are increasingly controversial in museums and the wider arts sector where the work can be exploitative, and it also reduces the diversity of people who can enter the museum workforce, according to Taylor: “Only wealthier young people can afford to work for nothing, especially in expensive cities like London”.

Data from the Museums Association’s Cuts Survey 2013, where respondents were asked to comment on changes over the past 12 months to income, staffing levels and service provision, shows 23% of respondents reduced the number of temporary exhibitions on display and 28% of museums reduced the number of free events on offer. School visits have decreased at nearly a third of museums.

Contrary to the government’s plan that museums will attract increased philanthropy, only 28% of museums managed to increase income from individual giving – and 17% experienced a fall in individual giving. Taylor said: “The potential for increased philanthropy appears limited in many parts of the UK and for many museum subject areas. Philanthropic efforts will never substitute for the loss of public funding”. Two thirds of respondents will be focusing more on generating income and fundraising over the next year, with almost half focusing more on encouraging participation.

Despite all this, 40% of museums believe that the quality of service they provide will improve over the next year, a higher level of confidence than reported in any previous survey – 36% in 2012 and only 13% in 2011.

Author(s): 
Elizabeth Hunt