Growing crisis for Scotland’s museums amid warnings well-known venues 'may never reopen'

Dozens of museums and heritage attractions across Scotland are at risk of closure within months due to the prolonged impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Glasgow Life, the operators of many of the city's best-known attractions, like Kelvingrove, say financial help is needed to avoid 'the worst of outcomes.'
Glasgow Life, the operators of many of the city's best-known attractions, like Kelvingrove, say financial help is needed to avoid 'the worst of outcomes.'

The future of around half of the country’s museums is said to be under threat without a fresh injection of emergency funding to help offset the impact of social distancing restrictions and hygiene measures which either dramatically cut visitor numbers or prevented some attractions from reopening this year.

Operators are warning it is “increasingly likely” that some museums, including “well-known venues around the country, “may now never reopen.

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Local communities may be asked to take on responsibility for the running of some attractions in future due to the increased costs involved in keeping them open to the public while visitor numbers have plummeted.

The City Art Centre is one of the few local authority-owned attractions in Edinburgh to reopen since lockdown.

Some of Scotland’s museums are said to have lost up to 90 per cent of the income they were expected to generate in the current financial year.

Officials running civic attractions in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Borders, the Highlands, Falkirk, East Lothian and the Western Isles were involved in research which found that many venues were “not considered economically viable” and had already been "vulnerable” to closure before the pandemic struck in March.

Five leading industry bodies have joined forces to warn of a looming crisis amid fears that Scotland’s cultural heritage and reputation as an international tourist destination could suffer long-term damage without a significant bail-out.

Attractions run by local authorities are said to be at particular risk of closure due to the spending pressure on councils and the increased costs involved in running them.

The Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile is currently closed to the public.

The impact of the pandemic on the finances of university is also said to have left their historic collections and attractions in “a very vulnerable position.”The new warnings have emerged days after an official report for government agency Historic Environment Scotland revealed the widespread impact of the pandemic on heritage bodies and organisations. Around one in four of those surveyed said that the future of historic buildings, monuments and collections was currently at risk.

A joint statement issued by the Museums Association, the Association of Independent Museums, Industrial Museums Scotland, the Scottish Museums Federation and University Museums in Scotland – said the impact of the pandemic could be “fatal” for some attractions.

Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, said: “We’re already hearing of major local authorities that are considering not funding their museums and galleries because they’re non-statutory services.

"We’re deeply concerned that some museums will not be able to reopen. Museums are vital civic spaces and can play a critical role in rebuilding and recovery with their communities – but they need funding to be able to do that.”

Duncan Dornan, head of the Glasgow Museums service, said: "The potential, permanent loss of any museum across Scotland immediately diminishes all our opportunities to learn and express ourselves.

"Any measure which directly supports museums everywhere will allow these loved and appreciated institutions to continue to work in all our interests and save many from the worst of outcomes.”

Jacky MacBeath, convenor of University Museums in Scotland, said: “Without ongoing support for the full range of museums contributing to the unique cultural landscape of Scotland, the sharing and use of our collections for the benefit of our communities is at risk.”

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