MUSEUMS on Tyneside may have to drop big exhibitions or reduce their opening hours as ministers prepare huge funding cuts, it has been warned.
Mark Taylor, director of the national Museum Association, said Tyneside faced a double blow as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport prepares to make a 25% budget cut while councils await news of huge funding reductions.
Mr Taylor said that once arts groups in Tyneside knew the result of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in October they would be asked to set out plans for drastic savings.
These will likely include reduced opening hours and only a limited amount of cash for major exhibitions, he said.
One other option would be to close key venues one day a week to save money.
Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives group – which includes sites such as the Discover Museum, the Great North Museum and the Laing Art gallery – would consider site closure as a last option, Mr Taylor said.
He added: “When you look at Renaissance in The Regions funding, which Tyne and Wear receives, we know that is getting cut. And a much greater percentage of your money comes from local government, and £1m or so from DCMS, and these are all getting reduced.
“Culture and museums are very vulnerable, and museums are very low down the list of essential services. Of course nothing can be ruled out, it will all be worse, although there are shades of worse.
“The easiest way is to save money start closing, either earlier on certain days, or on a Monday or completely. And we don’t want to do that because that is what groups like Tyne and Wear’s are there for. The quickest way is to start closing but that is what they will do last.”
Last night Iain Watson, acting director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said he was awaiting confirmation of Government cuts due in October.
He said: “We will not know until after the spending review, but obviously we receive local authority funding and the position there is the same as it is for anyone else really.
“We have no firm figures for next year’s funding. Everyone knows it is going to be very difficult.
“Obviously you need to consider everything, but we can’t rule anything in or out. Decisions ultimately have to be taken by local authorities. We will make recommendations but until we know the budget we have little certainty.”
Many venues say they expect to be able to cope with a 10% Arts Council cut but are awaiting the further funding losses expected next month.
Clare Byers, deputy director at the Baltic, said that at present there were no plans to reduce opening hours. She said: “Both our main stakeholders, the Arts Council and Gateshead Council, continue to give us their commitment but of course they have to wait and see what happens in the spending review before they can make further decisions.”
David Faulkner, leader of Newcastle Council and a keen advocate of the arts in Tyneside, said: “The arts have been incredibly important to this region’s creativity and regeneration and we must fight hard to make the case for maintaining investment as much as possible.
“But the arts will have to take a share of the spending reductions and how this is managed will be a test of the sector’s creativity and resourcefulness.
“Until the Spending Review details are announced, public speculation is unhelpful, but behind the scenes everyone will be planning on how to manage best in the new environment.”