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Why Collect?

New report calls for increased investment in museums and their collections

This week, Art Fund published Why Collect? Produced in partnership with Sir David Cannadine, this report explores the current status of museum collection across the UK. Its aim is to address the question of how, why and on what scale publicly funded museums and galleries continue to expand their collections. BOP provided statistical evidence from a national survey involving 266 collecting institutions.

Key findings included:

  • There is an ever-widening gap between the increasing prices of art works on the international art market and the funding available to museums to purchase them. The report calls for increased investment from both public and private philanthropic sources into museums and their collection. This is at a time when public spending has decreased by 13% in real terms over the last decade,
  • There are new approaches to collecting. Our survey found museums and galleries are increasingly less interested in the intrinsic values of objects, and more into the overall narrative the objects and experiences can bring. Examples included Manchester Museum acquiring a refugee’s life jacket from Greece; aligning with the institution’s remit to “promote understanding between cultures and develop a sustainable world”, and Tate Modern championing the collection of performance-based and live action work,
  • Selling artefacts from their collections is standard practice for museums across the UK. The rate this occurs has increased over the last decade and most typically based on curatorial motivations, rather than necessarily financial ones. The Imperial War Museum disposes selected materials in order to focus and refine its collections, as part of a carefully managed strategy. When artefacts are sold for financial gain, like in the report’s Northampton Museum and Art Gallery case study, it can invite condemnation from the professional art world, as well as damaging the image of the whole sector.

The full report can be downloaded here.

- Marta Moretto & Joshua Dedman, Researchers