Letter on Museum Closure

Our researcher Mark Liebenrood recently wrote a letter to The Guardian about museum closures. His letter is below, or you can read it on the Guardian’s site with other letters about the value and plight of museums in Ukraine and Sudan.

Charlotte Higgins is right to highlight the straitened circumstances of the UK’s museums (War has shown Ukrainians – and the rest of us – why museums are so important for telling our stories, 27 May), but there are deeper issues in the sector than a lack of cash to modify working practices and maintain displays.

The Mapping Museums project at Birkbeck, University of London has shown that more than 800 museums have closed in the UK since 1960. There can be many reasons for museums to close: founders retire, land and buildings are lost when leases cannot be renewed and, yes, reductions in income. But lack of funding is often a result of political choices. It is probably not by chance that the rate of closures has accelerated since 2010 – a period that coincides with austerity policies, with all their ramifications.

New museums have continued to open regularly, but 2010 was the first time that closures outstripped openings, and there are now signs that the sector may have begun to shrink. As Higgins says, we need museums. Closures often mean loss of access to collections, and in turn to public history. That too is a crisis that needs attention.

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