Museums facing up to financial 'cliff edge' during Covid-19 closure

Museums across Scotland could be forced to mothball exhibitions, downsize their collections, and lay off staff unless they receive additional support during the coronavirus shutdown, one of the sector’s leaders has warned.

The Scottish Maritime Museum is along those institutions facing a 'cliff edge', museum leaders warn.

David Mann, chairman of Industrial Museums Scotland (IMS), a partnership of 16 museum and visitor attractions across the country, warned that the economic repercussions of being forced to close temporarily during the lockdown would be “irreversible.”

He pointed out that the closures during the Easter holidays and beyond, a traditionally busy time for museums during which they generate revenue from visitors and education programmes, meant that many museums were now struggling, with fears some may not be able to reopen without support.

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The partnership, which holds almost a quarter of Scotland’s collections of items of national significance, has joined forces with Museums Heritage Highland (MHH) and the Scottish Community Heritage Alliance (SCHA) to call for an urgent intervention.

IMS museums, including the National Mining Museum Scotland in Newtongrange, Midlothian collectively welcome 900,000 visitors a year. But Mr Mann said the future was very much uncertain.

He told The Herald: “Closing indefinitely at a time when we generate the bulk of our annual operating income has put the future of many of our independent museums on a cliff's edge.

"Our growing concern is that this additional support for the independent museum sector will come too late, after some members have closed permanently, staff have been made redundant and charities wound up.

"Others will need to make redundancies, cut wages, mothball historic buildings and nationally significant collections to try and survive until the 2021 season.”

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Mr Mann, who is also a director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, went on: “The impact of this on the sector will be irreversible - putting nationally significant collections at risk and, most importantly, decimating staff, destroying team dynamics and ending careers.

"Closures mean collections have to be cared for by other organisations, putting a strain on local and national bodies, at a time when resources are already stretched thin.

"We believe that additional financial support would be no more costly than redundancies, mothballing and having to rebuild the museum sector in 2021."

Dan Cottam, chairman of MHH, said: "Small independent museums in the Highlands are used to contributing greatly to Scottish culture and their own communities from particularly meagre means, working creatively and entrepreneurially to produce an exciting and valuable offer whilst supporting hundreds of volunteers.

"Rural community museums perpetually walk a tightrope in terms of cash flow and the inability to generate income will mean most will quickly be depleting what small reserves we have.”

Catherine Gillies from the SCHA, said: "Altogether, we need funders to come forward urgently with financial support that meets not just immediate needs but recognises and secures longer term survival.

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