The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published an action plan that will enable joined-up strategic thinking for English museums at governmental and sector level in the wake of 2017’s Mendoza Review
The review was an independent study of museums in England, which was published in November 2017. It identified nine priorities for museums and included 27 recommendations for DCMS and its Arm’s-Length Bodies (ALBs), Arts Council England (ACE), the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Historic England (HE) to join up their strategies.
Last month ACE and HLF announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to develop a collective strategy following recommendations. That document means that ACE and HLF will align their funding processes and create a system for museums that makes it easier for them to understand which organisation to go to for certain needs.
Now, with this action plan, the DCMS has committed itself to raising government awareness on how museums contribute to a range of goals and will communicate to the sector how best to access resources.
Starting at the end of this year, the DCMS will hold an annual event for other government departments and ALBs to discuss museum spending and strategies.
Beyond that, with the 15 museums and the British Library that it operates, DCMS will look to provide greater transparency by publishing an annual report showing the partnership activity undertaken. The first of these will come in Q2 2019.
Meanwhile, the creation of new museums and the funding of their creation will align itself to the Mendoza Review under this action plan but will not enforce anything on ACE and HLF.
The Mendoza Review recommended new museums were only created in "areas and communities of demonstrable need". DCMS has said that, due to the fact that ACE and HLF are singular entities, they cannot force a definition of demonstrable need on the two but it gave some recommendations:
DCMS, ACE and HLF should consider and discuss the following when creating a new museum:
ACE and HLF existing priority areas, which are based on varied definitions around infrastructure and previous funding (HLF) and cultural engagement and arts and culture provision as a whole (ACE), and which take into account areas of deprivation;
The area or community being served by the proposal – this might be physical or geographical, or might be a demographic or other community;
The existing museums and wider cultural infrastructure, activity, public funding, and participation;
The role the new museum can play in strategic plans for the local area and in the life of the community and how it will work with arts and culture, economic, health and other institutions;
What need the proposal serves e.g. for buildings or spaces, collections, representation or engagement.
The action plan also states that the Spending Review for museums, which will be published by the UK government in 2019, will now be supported by the DCMS through its collaborative work with ACE and other ALBs to collect evidence on how public funding for museums supports their activities and impact.
Again on the line of funding, the DCMS will look to develop a publicly-available tool that aggregates data on government museums funding and relays it simply.
This action plan from DCMS, then, shows a clear and concerted effort at governmental to provide easier access to funding and greater transparency in strategic operations.
As a result of it, museums in England and the bodies that govern and fund them should have more partnered direction in their thinking and in their actions.