April 20, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 15 April 2020

These notes draw primarily on an extended meeting for museum organisations hosted by ACE this morning, and the weekly DCMS museums meeting this afternoon, as well as other updates we have received. Discussion has continued to focus on the immediate crisis; we anticipate that over the next few weeks we should get some insight into expectations regarding work towards re-opening, and consideration of responses to future pressures.

1) Financial support – big picture Notwithstanding the range of major (ACE, Heritage Fund, etc.) and more specific schemes, Kate Bellamy (ACE) acknowledged that ‘there will not be enough funding to support every museum’. It is anticipated that support emergency funds and support schemes will be heavily oversubscribed, and that some of the government initiatives, the business loans scheme for example, may not be easily accessible to museums. For ACE/DCMS, the immediate priority is museums facing insolvency/failing in the next four to six weeks, but it is recognised that museums will be under considerable pressure beyond this time frame. The expectation is that institutions will change; some will have to rethink their operations; some organisations will no longer exist.

Museums seeking emergency funding can only receive funds from either HF or ACE, not both; if you are considering an application, do seek advice as to which funding source is most appropriate.

2) Impact on HE Universities UK published a submission to government concerning the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on universities on 10 April which can be accessed here.

3) Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Updated guidance was published on 10 April.

4) Work towards re-opening/recovery The sense is that it is still too early to consider timescales, but it was noted that France anticipates some relaxation of lockdown measures from mid-May, but no opening up for larger public events before July.

5) Sharing intelligence It is acknowledged that there has been a flood of information, not all of which is joined up or fully accessible. Available surveys include one undertaken by the Heritage Fund.

ArtFund will survey their network next week to ask what do museums need most at the moment, so they can align, plug gaps.

6) Accreditation/Recognition ACE has extended the accredited status of organisations by 12 months; the scheme will be re-opened from April 2021; there is an FAQs document accessible online:

Note for museums which have submitted accreditation applications: ‘You will not be required to submit a new return once the scheme reopens in April 2021.’

In Scotland, the Recognition scheme has similarly been paused.

7) Project grants Both the Heritage Fund and ACE have suspended standard project grants for six months. It is anticipated that when schemes reopen, new criteria will include contributions to the recovery process.

8) AIL/Export Licences/Cultural Gifts This all paused as no objects can be viewed, panels not currently operating. Envisaged that there will be a backlog after lockdown lifts.

9) Security of collections The National Trust reports cases of ‘hostile reconnaissance’ around some sites. We recommend to members that they assess any security vulnerability, and consider whether special arrangements, such as seeking additional patrols from university security officers, should be put in place.

10) Disposal of collections/collections at risk While there is no immediate proposal to change guidance, it is recognized that some museums may consider selling works in order to address financial problems. Colleagues are also asking: if museums are going to close, what will happen to their collections? It is possible that some university museums may be asked to receive such collections and/or support disposal processes.

11) Workforce and Volunteers Some organisations report that they are losing their volunteers, and that volunteers are suffering isolation. In some cases, online training may provide opportunities to sustain engagement.

12) Digital Acknowledgement of unevenness of digital offer across sector, underlining gaps in digital capacity. Need to be prepared for further/continuing periods of lockdown/remote working and to ensure that museums have resilience and support to work remotely. ArtFund flagged the Digital Skills Initiative.

13) ‘Collections care in lockdown’

This online discussion may be useful.

14) Art Fund/ACE-V&A Purchase Fund

These programmes remain open for applications.

Nicola Kalinsky / Nicholas Thomas
Co-Chairs
University Museums Group