Museums Embrace Entrepreneurialism But There Are Risks
Local council budgets were cut by 40% under the last government (according to the Local Government Association) and with a Conservative majority now promising to further tighten council spending in order to tackle the budget deficit, museums must increasingly look elsewhere for funding.
Often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity, the heritage sector is inevitably one of the first to feel the force of these cuts. The importance of ingenuity and entrepreneurialism to museums is more significant than ever and museums will need to be run with a greater focus on making profit as they look to become self-sufficient.
Evidence of this new, entrepreneurial approach can be seen all over the country. Ironbridge Gorge Museum, a museum renowned for its entrepreneurship, has been providing lectures on topics such as how to make a museum more accessible as a film set, understanding the tourism industry, and how to run a profitable retail department.
Likewise, grants have increasingly been aimed at long-term sustainability – the Museums Association’s Transformers programme, which has been funded by Arts Council England, Museums and Galleries Scotland and Museums Wales, gives museum professionals the financial support to trial new ideas. Abergavenny Museum, for example, has, through the Transformers scheme, developed a system to exchange skills, goods and services with other local businesses in order to save money more efficiently.
The need for greater commercialism is probably not why many are in the heritage sector but, as Abergavenny demonstrates, it can put museums more in tune with their local communities.
While many museums are adapting well to the new environment there are risks attached to increased economic activity. Economic diversification for museums can be a challenge says Hugo Johnsen. Director of Museum Insurance at specialist heritage broker Castleacre: ‘More commercial activity and a growing number of events can leave a museum exposed to broader public liability risks and perversely, loss of income issues – for example if you are forced to cancel an event and close an in-house café because of a hygiene problem you might face a cancellation claim, claims from members of the public, and you will also loose vital income during the period of closure. A well put together museums insurance policy should factor in Public Liability of at least £5 million and protection against Loss of Income- it is essential if a museum is pursuing more diverse income streams that their insurance policy keeps pace with these dual risks.’