Workshop: Museums Futures in a Time of Austerity

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury
2-4.30pm, 24th February 2018

Museum closures are a matter for concern. The austerity measures introduced under the current government have resulted in local authorities reducing funding for museums and some have been forced to close. In this workshop we examine the landscape of closure within the UK. How do rates of closure compare with previous decades and also with rates of new museums opening? What’s lost when a museum closes? And is closure always a problem? Is it really necessary to have so many museums keeping their collections for posterity?

Chair: Professor Fiona Candlin, Director Mapping Museums research team, Birkbeck


Dr Jamie Larkin, Mapping Museums research team, Birkbeck
Alistair Brown, Policy officer, Museums Association
Emma Chaplin, Museums consultant
Jon Finch, Re-Imagining The Harris – Project Leader

Please register in advance


Museum closure is often an emotive subject. While the sector can point to recent closures and their causes, there is little understanding of how such trends play out over the longer term. This talk will present preliminary findings of the Mapping Museums project concerning museum closure between 1960-2018. It reflects on the methods used to trace information on closed museums and the conceptual problems encountered during the data collection. The talk then examines long-term closure trends through a number of key characteristics (e.g. location; subject matter; governance) and considers the implications that these findings may have for the sector at large.
Dr Jamie Larkin

The Museums Association has been monitoring museum closures over the last decade. How do we define closure? How have trends around closure changed? What has the impact of austerity been? And does the issue of closure obscure other major trends in the sector at present? Alistair will examine how closure figures have been gathered, interpreted and used as an advocacy tool on behalf of the museums sector.
Alistair Brown

During 2016 Emma and her colleague, Heather Lomas, carried out research for Arts Council England and the Museums Association about how museums deal with the reality of closing a museum. She will explore what happens when closure decisions are made, the challenges that are presented and the implications this has for governing bodies, staff, volunteers, the sector and the communities that museums have served.
Emma Chaplin

Local government has been and remains the largest investor in local government across the UK. However the ongoing fall out from the financial crash of 2008, and the austerity measure put in place by national government, has led to a massive decline in the funds available to Councils.  This has led to authorities to reviewing and drastically reducing their investment in a range of services, including museums.  Therefore there has been a significant reduction of museum services in many places, and in some instances closure.  However in certain localities local authority supported museums are thriving, sometimes with increased investment.  Why do some Councils value their museums so highly, when others seem so ready to do without theirs?  Jon will use his extensive experience of working with museums across the country to explore the reasons behind Councils’ decisions to close museums.  He will use the recent closure of five museums by Lancashire County Council as a case study to consider the impact of such decisions and how local authorities might be helped to make informed decisions in the future.
Jon Finch