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Use £120m Brexit festival money to help UK institutions in coronavirus crisis, Museums Association demands

Advocacy group has warned UK government that museums risk permanent closure due to the pandemic's effect on funding streams

The Duveen Galleries at the Tate Britain in London, one of the many UK museums which faces uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic © Susan Philips Horiz

The director of the UK membership and advocacy group Museums Association (MA) says that money allocated by the government for the so-called “festival of Brexit”—a UK-wide cultural event scheduled for 2022—should go towards museums under threat due to the coronavirus pandemic. The festival, backed by a £120m government investment, aims to champion the country’s innovation and creativity following the UK’s departure from the European Union last January.

The MA director Sharon Heal said: “We are calling for an emergency fund to be created to support museums through this difficult period. The government had earmarked £120m for a ‘festival of Britain’ in 2022; we believe this should now be made available to support museums at risk of permanent closure as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.” The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many museums operate with tight financial margins and even a few weeks loss of income could seriously undermine their business models, Heal adds. “We would appeal to government and funders to provide financial support and emergency funding for institutions that are affected by the pandemic; and also ask funders to operate flexibility in terms of delivery of currently funded projects.”

Last week, MA representatives and other museum stakeholders warned officials at the DCMS about the impact that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have on the museum, gallery and heritage sectors.

In a detailed online analysis, the MA outlines online how the museums sector might be affected in other ways in light of the outbreak. Funding and income streams are under threat, the association says, adding: “The closure of schools and cancellation of school trips may also result in loss of income. Many learning services rely on schools’ income rather than core funding to cover their staff wages and workshop costs.”

Reputational damage is also an issue. “Some museums have warned of the reputational risk if a site is identified as the source of an infection, or if the museum is seen to have taken inadequate or inappropriate action. At least one museum has already had to shut down false rumours on social media related to its response to the coronavirus,” the MA says.