Monday, September 14, 2009

Museums in the UK and Australia – is the scene that different?

One of the publications that I always look forward to is the monthly UK Museums Association Museums Journal. It is a much easier read than the rather densely packed American equivalent, Museum produced by the American Association of Museums. And the Australian equivalent produced by the Museums Association of Australia I am afraid to say is downright boring. One of the issues I find intriguing is where we are as a profession in Australia compared to the UK.

The immediate position is one of economic hardship big time in the UK, which at least in ‘avoiding-the-technical-recession’ Australia is not the present case. Councils across the land are laying off staff from local museums, the free admission to museums government policy is under threat (despite a massive impact on visits ranging from the Imperial War Museum up 75% to the V&A up 156% and the National Museums Liverpool up 240%) and the National Trust for Scotland is reducing its staff by one third. Overlaying all of this is also the cost of staging the London Olympics in 2012, which is sucking money out of the arts/culture sector. And then there is the problem of any spare cash being used to save art for the nation, the most recent being the serious money spent on Titian’s Diana and Actaeon jointly purchased for the small sum of £50 million by the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery in London.
Against this of course are some great programs, one of the most successful being the Renaissance in the Regions which has had a massive impact on the regional museum scene.

So it is interesting to read the experience of Sara Holdsworth from the Manchester City Galleries who has just completed a three week exchange at the Art Gallery of NSW. In summary she found that:
· AGNSW was much better resourced (twice the staff and six times the budget for about the same size of collection)
· It was more collection focused and much less interested in diversity and audiences
· She couldn’t get over the cultural and social phenomenon of the Archibald and the amount of income it generates for the Gallery
Interesting stuff to ruminate on – we may be financially more fortunate at present but our horizons may also be more limited.

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