Fitzwilliam Museum funding cuts

December 12 2022

Image of Fitzwilliam Museum funding cuts

Picture: Apollo

When the Arts Council announced its funding settlement last month all the hoo-ha focused around cuts to institutions like the English National Opera. But there were some savage and needless cuts in the museum sector too, especially for the Fitzwilliam Museum, which lost half its funding; £637k from £1.2m. No reason was given. By contrast, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford didn't lose any funding. 

The Arts Council says it was responding to the government's directions on 'levelling up', that is, redistributing funding from London to the regions. But this appears to be mainly cover for overall cuts. The Arts Council is supposed to be an 'arms length body', and retain some independence from the government. However, its actions lately suggest it is doing too much of the government's bidding. For example, previously its two main funding streams - the National Lottery and grant-in-aid - were supposed to be clearly demarcated as separate sets of accounts. But now the two sums are lumped in together, which masks the fall in grant-in-aid from the government. But the main problem is the Arts Council was never set up to deal with museums - this used to be a different body, the MLA (Museums Libraries and Archives) - and is inherently more focused on performing arts. 

There's an interview here in Apollo with the Fitzwilliam's director Luke Syson (above), responding to the cuts:

For the past three years, the University of Cambridge Museums group has received £1.2m. This year, in one of the most reviled funding rounds in the history of the ACE, it was announced that the group would receive just over £600,000. According to the most recent annual report publicly available (2019– 20), ACE contributed 12 per cent of the museum’s income. For an institution of the Fitzwilliam’s size, this reduction in income is crippling. Reading between the lines, there are hints in the same report that ACE was concerned that the Fitzwilliam hadn’t fulfilled its targets of diversifying the audience. Cutting its money won’t help it achieve this.

Syson is clearly in shock when we discuss this. At the time of our interview, he still hadn’t had an explanation. It ‘was announced on Friday [4 November] and we didn’t have any warning that we were going to be cut to that degree. Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed,’ he says. It is a decision that seems particularly odd in light of the fact that the work the outreach and education teams did during lockdown resulted in the Fitzwilliam being ‘consulted by legislators to find out what best practice in this in this area looked like.’

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