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How MGS is speaking up for civic museums

Joe Traynor, Head of Programmes and Partnerships here at Museums Galleries Scotland, writes about the work we’ve been doing to advocate for Civic museums during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since the beginning of lockdown in March, Museums Galleries Scotland has been actively engaging with our museum and galleries friends and colleagues throughout Scotland and beyond. We have mobilised to ensure that we can help as many museums and galleries as we possibly can survive through this unprecedented period.   

Our CEO, Lucy, has maintained constant dialogue with Scottish Government colleagues to present the urgent case for the sector – supported by the gathering of information through surveys and dialogue with museums and industry groups. 

We know that many of our colleagues in Local Authorities and Trusts are extremely concerned about the future. Civic museums have been among the hardest hit by lockdown, with most still unable to open and others operating at reduced capacity. We also know that for many, the decision to open your venues doesn’t always rest with you. 

The Scottish Government’s support for independent museums, through our Recovery and Resilience Fund, was hugely welcome – and we as an organisation have pivoted to ensure that we provide maximum help and support. But we know that our work isn’t done.  

We are making the case as to ensure that you are given the security to survive this difficult financial year. Museums and galleries have lost significant income, as well as facing uncertainties around the health of staff and volunteers, anxiety about returning audiences and how to engage with them, and many other issues which have become part of day to day life. 

Looking beyond that immediate crisis, we are working with others to look at the funding arrangements for local authority and trust museums and galleries 

As non-statutory services, we know that civic museums face an uncertain future as the local government finance situation becomes clearer and budgets begin to be set for next financial year.  We also know, that although civic museums may be classed as “discretionary spending,” they aren’t optional extras. They include some of Scotland’s most significant visitor attractions and are at the heart of our tourist economy and cultural life. For many of our communities, they are key to Place and represent cultural identity. 

Civic museums undertake a huge range of work with schools and volunteers, as well as those people that could be disenfranchised without our help; the lonely, those with dementia or mental illness, those with chronic pain, parents who meet others through our activities, students that work with the collections we care for, in short; museums are deeply embedded in our community life and we represent a significant part of the story of Scotland. 

We’ve been engaging with government and parliament to ensure that message is heard. Our Chief Executive appeared as a witness at the Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, we have submitted further evidence to the Local Government Committee’s consultation on COVID-19 and local government finances.  

All of this work is informed by our discussions with you, including our new civic museums working group which met for the first time earlier this month. If you are involved in the sector, please get in touch if you want to highlight any issues or concerns.  We want to work with you to shout about your achievements and the impact that you have, and we want to support you to do it for yourselves.