Museums in the Pandemic

Funding for UK museums during the pandemic

When the pandemic first broke, commentators forecasted large-scale closures in the UK museum sector.  In fact, as we discussed in our previous blog, there have been very few permanent closures.

Emergency funding has had a direct bearing on how museums have weathered the past year. Given that our project ‘Museums in the Pandemic’ examines risk, closure, and resilience in the UK museum sector during the COVID crisis, it is important for us to understand what emergency funding was on offer and to whom. In particular, we wanted to know whether there had been any gaps in the funding – if certain types of museums had been ineligible for funding – and so we duly embarked on compiling a list of the funding streams available to museums. We noted the source of funding, who administered it, the aims of each funding stream, total money allocated, the maximum and minimum amounts on offer to each institution, and the eligibility criteria. The list grew and grew.

In this blog we make our spreadsheet available for general use. Please let us know if you can fill in any of the blanks or if you can add to, clarify, or correct the information we present here. 

Download the data (Excel file in xlsx format; last updated 16 July 2021)

Initial Observations

In order to help us make sense of our expanding list we spoke to people who had been involved in organising or allocating the funding. Here we make some brief, preliminary observations on funding during the pandemic. This is work in progress so, again, we welcome any comments.

In total, over fifty new funding streams were open to museums. Some organisations re-allocated existing funding, and new funds were made available, principally through the Cultural Recovery Fund.

Large numbers of organisations were involved in allocating and administering funding to museums. These include: Arts Council England; Arts Council Northern Ireland; Art Fund; Business Wales; CADW; Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy; Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; Federation of Museums and Galleries in Wales; Garfield Weston Foundation; HM Revenue and Customs; Historic England; Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government; Museums Archives, Libraries Division Wales; Museums Development Network; Museums Galleries Scotland; National Lottery Heritage Fund; Northern Ireland Museums Council; HM Treasury; Visit Wales; and around 400 local authorities. Some of these organisations administered several funding streams and some organisations collaborated on providing grants. In some cases one organisation provided the funding and another oversaw its allocation, for example National Lottery Heritage Funds provided bulk of the funding for the Emergency Recovery Funds, but it was administered by Arts Council England. 

Some funding was available to museums across the UK, other streams were particular to England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or combinations thereof. The grants had different criteria including governance, accreditation status, and the museums’ financial position.

The Emergency and Cultural Recovery Funds were open to museums at risk. In the first instance, this meant that they had less than three months operating costs. However, there was a lack of clarity about the status of financial reserves that had been earmarked for specific projects. Arts Council England report that they were strict about insisting on the use of reserves, apart from when they were legally restricted to a designated use, whereas the National Lottery Heritage Fund took a more lenient view. 

Museums were also been eligible for a number of grants and other support schemes that were aimed at businesses more generally. These included the job retention scheme, Statutory Sick Pay rebates, VAT deferral, various government-backed loans, and rate relief. As was the case for the targeted grants, this business support has been administered by a range of different bodies.

The number of funding streams and the variety of their remits makes it extremely difficult to establish whether particular types of museums fell through the gaps. However, there do seem to have been some pinch points:

  • Small museums often only required small amounts of funding, for instance for PPE or to help staff work from home. The first major grant, the Emergency Response fund had a minimum of £35,000. Thus in the first instance, there was no available funding for small museums.
  • England used the same £35,000 threshold for the Cultural Recovery Fund funding stream. Other national bodies had a much lower threshold for grants. In Wales there was no minimum. The Treasury discouraged Arts Council England from offering lower grants because of the amount of administration involved, and as things stood, they processed more than 6,000 applications in the first six months of the pandemic.
  • Accredited museums were directed to apply for funding to ACE, MALD and Museums Galleries Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Museums Council as appropriate, with non-accredited museums being directed to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. As the National Lottery Heritage Fund had a minimum threshold of £3,000, non-accredited museums could usefully access smaller grants whereas accredited museums could not. In practice, however, there was a degree of blur between the two schemes with some accredited museums also gaining funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Small grants with no minimum threshold were later made available across the UK by the Museums Development Network and Art Fund.
  • The National Lottery Heritage Fund specified that applicants had to already be in receipt of public money. That is, they had already received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund or an arms-length body. Museums that had never received funding were ineligible to apply.
  • Local Authority museums have to go through internal council procedures in order to gain permission to apply for external funding. In these cases, much depended on the responsiveness, capacity and flexibility of the individual council. Similar conditions apply to many University museums.

Plotting the different funding streams and their remits is a challenge and in a few cases it has not been clear to us whether museums were eligible. We were unsurprised to hear that some museums also struggled to negotiate this complex terrain and that staff from the Museums Development Network had to act as translators and guides for some of the smaller museums. Yet, despite the complexity of emergency funding, the lack of closures indicates that the schemes were collectively successful in helping museums through this difficult period.

Over the next few months, we will be reporting in more detail on how the different types of museums have fared during the pandemic, and the specific challenges they have managed and continue to face.

Fiona Candlin and Mark Liebenrood. July 2021.

(Image by Adam Heath on Flickr)

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