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UK Museums Learn How To Ask For Money

British art groups are, like their counterparts here, experiencing economic difficulties, not least there because the government, including local councils, have slashed the amount of aid it provides.

imagesPartly in response to a comment made last year by culture secretary Maria Miller — that arts groups must “get better at asking, not just receiving,” 11 museums and theatres in Britain have developed a new smart phone app, designed to trigger on-site giving — while people are appreciative of what they are seeing. It’s a new National Funding Scheme, and it charges each participating institution 4% to be part of it. There are more details about the scheme in this press release.

According to a report in last Wednesday’s Independent, the day the app went live, the groups — which include the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum —

hope to play on “emotionally charged” culture lovers and persuade them to support exhibits and performances with a touch of a button on their mobile phone….

…In the participating venues will be a panel next to an exhibit, or in the auditorium explaining the cause highlighted. Each case has a unique code which can be texted in from any mobile phone, or scanned in using android or apple smartphones.

This is a six-month “trial run,” The Independent said. If you go here, you can see that the National Funding Scheme also suggests ways arts enthusiasts might be otherwise involved, doing simple things like spreading the word. (While I was on the site, I clicked on the “Culture Juice” link to see what that was all about — it has a few lessons in social marketing, the best one of which is about email marketing.)

I think this scheme has to be done with care. A really big “panel” asking for donations could be offputting. Putting one before and after might also be obtrusive.

Two years ago, though, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston put a collection box near Chihuly’s Lime Green Icicle Tower and activated its first mobile giving scheme, allowing people to give $10 with a text message. Many other causes now ask for donations by text.

So it can be done well. Also, I don’t see why museums can’t do this on their own, without a national scheme. Maybe some have already. I don’t think it’s that hard to set up.





  1. Have any figures on how well the scheme at the MFA Boston did?

  2. the nameless eye says:

    I am always amused at the British term “scheme” for these things, as to this American it has the negative connotations of “Ponzi scheme” etc.

    Though I am a somewhat distant observer of these things, I am also amused and saddened by Europeans who apply American ideas without importing the system itself. This was taken to the Italian museum world a few years ago and had terrible effects, since in Italy the idea of fundraising is supported by neither by a tax code to encourage it nor a longstanding tradition of individual philanthropy. What resulted was cuts to the cultural budget and nothing to replace them as people did not give in the amounts needed or hardly at all. American ideas have similarly devastated the Viennese museum system in different ways, with the idea of audience numbers as a measurement of success. This has led to the conversion of the Albertina–which houses perhaps the most important works on paper collection in the world–into a kunsthalle practically, and goes far to explain the meretricious exhibitions that have become habitual in the city.

    Britain has a better chance with the American idea of asking the public for money for museums, since there is something of a tradition of philanthropy among the aristocratic if not the wealthy. But why should their museum system give itself over to what is in essence a national Kickstarter campaign? The cultural secretary’s comment about “getting better at asking, not just receiving” is either disingenuous or an abdication of responsibility. It is for the secretary to get better at asking the government–making a consistent case for support for culture–so that the museums under her charge should have the funds they need. In the absence of that support, the museum system should tailor its ambitions to its resources. The doubtful Bilbao effect aside, not every new building or new museum is a good idea. And the financial support of the general public is notoriously fickle, so it seems risky to make one’s livelihood dependent on it more than necessary.

    In the case of Boston, it seems disingenuous to ask for money in an exhibition space after having asked for a twenty-five dollar admission fee at the door. Asking for money in an exhibition space is a terrible precedent to set, as in addition to distracting from the pleasure of looking at the objects it makes the whole thing seem more low and commercial than it is. And this is in an institution that professes to be open to, and governed by the concerns of, a diverse audience–such very high admission fees alone restrict diversity of audience much more than anyone will admit.

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