Museum directors say at least 10% funding boost required “just to stabilise”

Image: Visitors at The Box, Plymouth, August 2021 © Janie Airey Art Fund 2021

Museum directors express growing concerns over funding shortfalls, with two-thirds now worried about survival, while audience numbers slowly recover post-pandemic.

More than half of museum directors are concerned about funding shortfalls, and believe a 10-20% increase in funding is required just to survive.

The conclusions are part of Art Fund’s Museum Directors Research report, which collected responses from more than 300 directors of museums, art galleries, historic houses, heritage sites and libraries.

The concern about capital is one which has only increased, according to this year’s survey. The report says in 2022, half of museums were concerned about funding shortfalls. That figure in 2024 has now increased to two thirds.

The directors report that the sources of funding are also changing; the majority say earned or commercial income has increased in 2023/24.

Over half of the directors run organisations which are either local authority–run or receive some form of funding from local authorities. The majority of those (51%) say local authority (core or project) funding has not risen but has stayed the same. Six per cent say local authority funding has stopped completely in the most recent financial year.

One of the respondents, a director running a local authority museum in Scotland, was quoted as having said: “I have been in the sector since the late ‘90s, so I’ve seen it go through all sorts of different things. And I do feel it’s at breaking point.”

A national museum director described the financial situation as “like being on life support.”

“They wait until we are critically ill in March and then blood-transfusion us with a top up. That’s no way to run any business.”

Collectively, the museum directors identified funding shortfalls as the main challenge in the 2024/25 financial year.

More positively, Art Fund said there was hope, with “strength in numbers as more organisations seek to work together on exhibitions. There is acute awareness of a huge opportunity in achieving proper recognition for the work they do in delivering for their communities.”

On audience numbers, organisations are still making efforts to recover audience figures to pre-pandemic levels while worrying about capital.

Directors were asked how their audience figures compared between 2023/24 and 2022/23. The majority reported an increase, some of which reported a more than 25% annual boost to visitors. International visitors, meanwhile, have seen the least growth in the past twelve months.

One independent museum director in England said its audience figures were “nearly back up to pre- pandemic levels for our free offer. Paid tickets are lower.”

A national museum director said their audience numbers still hadn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, adding “I think quite a lot of museum visiting is a subconscious habit, it’s just what we do.”

The panel of directors were asked which of Art Fund’s priorities were most relevant. At the top of the list were growing audiences for museums and environmental sustainability.

Art Fund conclues in its report: “We are beginning to see what a threat to sustainability looks like for the UK’s museums; Undervaluing of museums and lack of recognition; poor building maintenance; fewer exhibitions; understaffing and poor staff wellbeing, and poor collection care.”

The full report is available to download here.