Plan to freeze arts funding could hit design industry

The design industry faces a New Year blow as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announces plans that will effectively cut Government arts organisations subsidy by about £30m in real terms over three years.

The department’s Spending Review 2004 freezes arts budgets at the 2005 level of £413m for the next three years. This may affect design businesses long-term as economies and projects overlap.

However, regional museums are to receive a 50 per cent hike in funding as part of the Government’s Renaissance in the Regions scheme and national museums will receive a 200 per cent increase in funding. London’s South Bank Centre and Liverpool will both receive ‘pots of funding gold’ worth £5m to help with redevelopment schemes. However, while the Government trumpets ‘a record uplift’ in funding for museums and galleries, the reality is somewhat different.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell promises to ‘continue the groundbreaking investment programme in regional museums’ and focus on improving museum and gallery buildings to ensure ‘they are in good shape’. However, when the statistics are crunched down, the ‘increases’ are negligible.

Judged in real terms, the settlements are modest, in part because the funding cake is smaller than in previous years. For example, for national and regional museums there will be increases of £18m for 2006-07 and £42m for 2007-08, but this is far behind the £115m a year the museums said was essential.

As a result, exhibition design-based projects and interior work for museums and galleries could all suffer.

Scott Burnham, creative director at Urbis, a museum showcasing urban culture for Manchester, thinks the review throws into question how seriously the Government takes museums and galleries.

‘The amount of money we are talking here is minuscule, yet by cutting funding, it doesn’t only directly translate into less financial nurturing of the nation’s cultural institutions, but quite clearly sends out the message there is less value placed on these institutions by the Government,’ he says.

Burnham believes funding is essential to ensure cultural institutions can compete in the increas

ingly crowded entertainment spectrum. He speculates that lack of money may result in less adventurous programming and warns that ‘the more challenging shows are always the first to go when money gets tight’.

Chris Cawte, managing director at exhibition design consultancy Met Studio, also thinks the Spending Review figures should be viewed with caution.

‘It is important to remember what is inside the museums and for the Government to not just focus on buildings alone. It would be a shame if the money was spent on architecture fees and not on boosting content,’ he says.

Overall, Cawte hopes the extra funding for galleries and museums will have a ‘positive trickle-down effect’ within the sector.

Designers must be ready to grab every opportunity to benefit from the small increase in museum funding over the next three years.

Spending Review 2004

• Arts facing £30m cut in subsidy funding overall

• 200% increase in capital funding for national museums

• 50% increase in funding for regional museums, to continue the roll out of the Renaissance in the Regions scheme.

• Additional £12m funding for English Heritage capital work

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