Museums might have to offload treasures to survive - task force

Museums need long term and consistent funding, and should consider disposing of objects to relieve storage and management pressure, according to a Museums Association (MA) report.

Deaccessioning is among the radical recommendations in the report from the task force commissioned by the MA in 2016 under Bristol culture head Laura Pye whose report has just been published.

It calls on museums to “foster a brave approach to collections management and rationalisation”, saying that many museums have full stores with collections acquired inconsistently, and with gaps in collections knowledge.

“It is necessary to break the cycle of having too much material that is not being used or delivering public benefit, not enough information about what museums have, and insufficient capacity to manage collections and make confident and informed decisions” the report says.

The taskforce also stresses that all museums face “high fixed overheads inherent in what makes them unique – caring for collections and buildings and ensuring public access”.

The task force, which comprised 15 senior museums professionals from all four UK nations, pointed up an urgent need for governments “to develop a strategic approach to museums and their funding”, and said museums needed to focus on three areas, relevance, funding and collections are critical issues.

“We need to ensure that the recommendations are now explored and taken forward” said the MA’s director, Sharon Heal. “There are a number of areas that the MA is already working on. For example, we are working with stakeholders and sector bodies to explore how we can make our collections more relevant and work with communities to unlock new narratives.”

The task force’s main recommendation are that museums should

  • Be bold in approaching collections management and close the gap between theory
    and practice.
  • Help the public recognise the value of collections and their role in society.
  • Reflect on recent approaches to rationalisation, disposal, storage, loans and acquisitions.
  • Make their collections reflect the diversity of their communities.
  • Educate volunteers in understanding and their collections.
  • Work in national, regional and local partnership to share knowledge, resources and capacity.
  • Use schemes such as Accreditation, Designation and Recognition to maintain standards
  • Consider local endowments to help secure the future of collections and institutions.
  • Consider more radical approaches to the disposal of collections in order to help secure the long-term future.

The MA is holding a Future of Museums: Collections seminar on 20 March at the Wellcome Collection in London, which includes discussion on future policy work around collections.

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