Museum Closure in the UK 2000-2025

Wooden packing cases of different sizes with stencilled text and labels stand in front of a blank wall

Awarded £997,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, research began in October 2023 and will continue until September 2025.  

Museums are defined as permanent institutions and are intended to preserve collections for posterity. Yet their closure is common. Our previous AHRC-funded research, ‘Mapping Museums‘, showed that some 480 museums have closed in the UK since 2000. These closures have varied in type. Local councils may amalgamate several museums to form one consolidated organisation, and replace outdated institutions with landmark buildings. In such instances services have often been improved. Alternatively, museums may be mothballed or the collection disbanded. Some objects are returned to original donors, some scrapped, and others sold. Closure is usually understood in terms of failure and loss.  

To date, there has been no research on how closure differs across institutions or on which collections have stayed in public circulation and which have disappeared. This project will examine different types of closure, the flows of objects and knowledge from museums in the aftermath of closure, and the afterlife of collections. In doing so, we will critically reassess notions of permanence and loss within the museum sector.