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Preparation for Museum Closure: introduction

In this guidance we discuss ‘Full Closure’ of the museum, museum service, and/or governing body, followed by guidance on ‘Partial Closure’ of a museum within a wider service.

Introduction

This page contains guidance for museums and galleries preparing to close permanently that can help to manage that transition. Decisions to close are made by the governing body of a museum. The guidance given here assumes that the governing body has already explored and exhausted all realistic alternative options before deciding upon closure. This includes undertaking consultation, looking at alternative business models and cash flow analysis. If you are not at this stage yet but are seriously considering it, then contact Museums Galleries Scotland directly for further support and advice.

A museum closure is a very emotive issue and is often viewed as a failure. The people involved can feel like they have let down their communities, audiences and supporters, despite it often being due to factors out of their direct control. A ‘good’ closure should be viewed as an evolution of the museum, with the legacy of work living on and the collection being appropriately managed and cared for somewhere else. Allowing it to continue to be accessible for public benefit and enjoyment. Managing a closure well is important to ensure that the processes are as easy as they can be and the best possible outcomes are found for everyone involved.

Full Closure

Museums and their practitioners work in accordance with the principles underpinned by the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics. Any decision to close a museum or wind-up a museum’s governing body should continue to meet the guidelines of the Code of Ethics. This includes how collections are managed and/or dispersed or disposed of.

The Code of Ethics states that museums should:

  • maintain collections for current and future generations
  • care for collections with transparency and competency to generate knowledge and engage the public with collections
  • treat museum collections as cultural, scientific or historic assets, not financial assets.

This ethical approach should continue to be followed if a museum is closed.

Partial Closure

The term ‘partial closure’ is used here as a catch-all term for the one of the following museum (or gallery) closure scenarios:

  • A museum service closes a ‘branch’ museum(s)
  • A part of a museum, such as an exhibition space or store is closed

This section of the guidance does not directly consider the cessation of key museum services. Each of these scenarios is inevitably individual and dependent upon the circumstances of the individual museum or museum service. Please contact our Museum Development Team to discuss anything further.

Closure of a ‘branch museum’

Museums can be grouped together with other museums. This may be as part of a national museum or as a group of museums managed by a charity, university, or local authority. These groupings are commonly referred to as a ‘museum service’. Examples include National Museums Scotland, Dundee Heritage Trust, the University of Aberdeen, and Glasgow Museums.

Points to consider

Before making the definitive decision to close a museum, you should have considered and be clear on:

  • The museum’s financial and legal position
  • the status of insurance cover while an organisation is in the process of dissolving
  • Whether staff or volunteers can be redeployed
  • What will become of the museum’s collection?
  • For partial closure, will that museum’s offer be replicated elsewhere within your service?
  • What will become of the museum’s building(s)?
  • Any existing or potential partners or collaborators, and any merger opportunities

You should also ensure that at the earliest opportunity you inform Museums Galleries Scotland of the possible planned closure, and discuss with the Museum Development Team, who are here to help you. Early consultation is central to the closure of a museum. This will mean different things to different people and will be a factor in deciding who you need to inform first.

Here’s a possible, but not exhaustive, list:

  • The local community and any ‘Friends Groups’ of the museum’s planned closure, possibly consulting on future building uses
  • OSCR of the planned decision, if applicable
  • Any funders, such as National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) or the National Fund for Acquisitions (NFA), who may wish to withdraw funding
  • Local Authority
  • Legal and financial services to help you explore options
  • Discuss the planned closure with all the museum’s stakeholders

Legacy

It can be challenging to think about leaving a positive legacy of the museum’s work during the winding-up process. Doing so can help your workforce, audience and supporters come to terms with the change and see the process as evolution. Each closure is different and therefore the legacy that can be left is different.

Some examples of how the museum can continue to have an impact include:

  • Can any engagement/outreach programs continue?
  • Can the website/digital offer be maintained and/or enhanced?
  • Will the museum be transferred to new group to deliver the service with increased community involvement
  • Can access by the public be maintained to the building in its new use?
  • Will the collection and its information be available to a wider audience?

Learn more

Museums Association – Museums Facing Closure: Legal and Ethical Issues 

https://ma-production.ams3.digitaloceanspaces.com/app/uploads/2020/06/18145336/20092017-museums-facing-closure.pdf

Museums Association - Code of Ethics for Museums

www.museumsassociation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics

Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)

https://www.oscr.org.uk/

Collections Trust

https://collectionstrust.org.uk/

Brightly coloured rolls of fabric pilled on top of each other. CC0 Image by Max Pixel
Related guide

Preparation for Museum Closure: Governing body

Find out more