Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (c) Nathan Hughes Hamilton on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Glasgow’s museums face funding crisis

Jonathan Knott, 31.07.2020
Council says that without support from central government it will be a struggle to continue providing cultural services
Glasgow will struggle to continue providing cultural services without support from central government, according to the city council.

Earlier this month Glasgow City Council’s leader and deputy leader wrote to the Scottish government on behalf of Glasgow Life, which runs 11 museum sites in the city. They said the charity is expecting a budget deficit “running into tens of millions of pounds”.

Glasgow Life’s museums include Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Riverside Museum and the Burrell Collection. It receives about £75m a year – two-thirds of its income – from the council to run these alongside arts, sport, libraries and community services.

It was expecting to generate £38m itself through tickets and commercial activities this financial year, but a council spokesperson said this income stream so far was “close to nil”.

In a letter on 15 July seen by Museums Journal, the council’s leader Susan Aitken and deputy leader David McDonald made the case for financial support to secretary Fiona Hyslop and the finance secretary Kate Forbes.

Aitken and McDonald wrote: “While Glasgow Life is committed to doing all we can to continue to deliver as much as possible of our extraordinary cultural output, it is increasingly clear that we will struggle to do so without support from central government.

They added: “The income generated through concert tickets and donations supports Glasgow Life services and all of it has stopped completely. Currently, we predict a shortfall of income running into tens of millions of pounds.”

The councillors said decisions on service delivery would have a far-reaching impact not just on the city but on all of Scotland’s creative industries.

The letter argued Glasgow’s museum service was a major draw for tourists, saying: “Since 2013, tourism to Glasgow has grown from 1.9 million to 2.5 million visitors. Spend has grown from £482m to £774m over the same period, helping sustain more than 30,000 jobs in the city.”

Glasgow Life plans to reopen Kelvingrove in the week beginning 17 August. The Riverside Museum is due to open from 31 August, while the Gallery of Modern Art is planned to open from 5 October. Opening dates for its other museum venues have not been announced.

Glasgow council’s deputy leader David McDonald said: “There is probably no other public sector arts and sport organisation in Europe with the breadth, richness and quality of offering of Glasgow Life. The contribution it makes not just to every single community in Glasgow but to Scotland’s whole cultural, artistic and sporting life is enormous.

“We have always had a great working relationship with the Scottish Government but now we’re asking them to step up more, to ensure that the huge contribution Glasgow Life can make to Glasgow and Scotland’s economic and social recovery is fully realised and not held back by the unavoidable financial challenges that have resulted from this global pandemic and lockdown.”

Museums Association director Sharon Heal said: “We are deeply concerned about the future of local authority and civic museums throughout the UK. We understand that councils have not only had the extra expense of dealing with Covid-19 at a local level but also face the loss of income that has gone alongside the pandemic. The prospect of further cuts to local authority budgets in the next spending round will jeopardise the already precarious finances of many museums. 

“Our civic museums contain collections of national and international significance and can help to create a vital sense of place and community which has been undermined during the lockdown. 

“The £1.5bn culture funding is very welcome and we are now making a strong case to government for follow-on funding that will support civic museums to create a sustainable future.”

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