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Arts Council England has committed to developing a Museums Action Plan, on the recommendation of the first independent review of the museums sector for more than ten years.

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Arts Council England (ACE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) should share intelligence and streamline their funding offer for museums, the first review of England’s museums sector for more than ten years has concluded.

As the development body for England’s museums, ACE is also encouraged to collaborate with HLF and the DCMS on the creation of a Museums Action Plan, which would set out how to support museums over the next four years, and to develop a clear framework for identifying museums and collections at risk.

ACE welcomed the conclusions of the independent review, saying it would continue to work collaboratively with the DCMS and HLF. It is already undertaking a review of the Museum Accreditation Scheme and has committed to delivering a Museums Action Plan.

The review

Announced in the DCMS Culture White Paper in 2016, the ‘Mendoza Review’ aims to better understand the challenges facing accredited local and regional museums in England. It has been led by Neil Mendoza, an entrepreneur, publisher and non-executive board member of the DCMS.

The Review claims to have calculated total Government funding to museums for the first time, finding £844m was provided in 2016/17 through a combination of direct interventions and support through arms-length bodies. It says this figure has remained largely constant for the past ten years.

It examines the national museums infrastructure, making recommendations for DCMS, ACE, the sector and local authorities on adapting to the current funding environment, growing and diversifying audiences, contributing to placemaking and delivering cultural education.

It calls for a more strategic approach to museums development and recommends ACE and HLF align their funding offer, to make it “clear to museums where they should go for different needs”. It says HLF should focus its museums funding on capital projects and “take a lead from ACE” as the museum development body.

ACE is encouraged to working closely with the Local Government Association to support local authorities in their work with museums, including by producing and disseminating best practice guidance. It is also called upon to disseminate key data on the sector and its health, including audience, workforce and income figures.

Another recommendation is to produce a “more consistent” Museum Development Programme and to use National Lottery funding to support museums more strategically by committing to projects that improve their long-term sustainability.

The DCMS is encouraged to hold others to account for delivery of the recommendations, and local authorities are advised to develop cultural strategies to demonstrate how museums can support local priorities.

“Museums are integral to placemaking and economic regeneration, domestically and promoting Britain on the world stage through their partnerships and exhibitions with museums in countries such as China, Brazil and India,” writes Mendoza in the foreword.

“I strongly believe that if these recommendations are implemented in full, it will make a great and positive difference to museums in England.”

ACE response

ACE said it supported the recommendations of the Review, and would “immediately start work with DCMS and HLF on developing a Museums Action Plan”.

The funder also pledged to put in place a memorandum of understanding with HLF to improve clarity for the museums sector, and noted redesigned Grants for the Arts funding programmes would be open to museums from April 2018.

“We recognise the distinct challenges faced by the sector and, as the national development agency for museums in England, we will play a leading role in delivering the priorities identified in the Review,” a spokesperson said.

“The Arts Council is committed to working with all accredited museums to support them to develop their business models, strengthen the care they provide for their collections and offer even greater experiences to audiences across England.”

Museum accreditation

A review of the Museum Accreditation Scheme is currently being undertaken by the UK Accreditation Partners: Arts Council England, Museums Galleries Scotland, the Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Museums Council.

The partners released a survey last week inviting feedback on aspects of the scheme that “are not currently working”. Its recognises concerns that accreditation is currently “too bureaucratic” and that it asks for “too much information which is not relevant to a baseline quality standard”.

Speaking about the survey, Scott Furlong, Director of Collections and Cultural Property at Arts Council England, said: “We started the Accreditation Review earlier this year and, through valuable conversations with external colleagues, we have identified opportunities to refocus, simplify and improve elements of the Scheme.

“We are keen to hear from a wide range of people about their experiences of accreditation. We really value all feedback and ideas, and will use the insights we gain from the survey to inform our future plans for the UK Scheme.”

Further research

In addition, ACE has released three pieces of museum research it commissioned to support the Mendoza Review. The first maps museum data in England and examines how data is currently collected. It identifies a capacity issue and provides a series of recommendations for reforming the data collection process.

The other research was concerned with museums that have experienced significant change in the past five years, such as changes of mission or organisational structure; and the changing operating models of accredited museums in England.