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Can museums make money?

December 9, 2013

money museum
Last week Hampshire County Council announced a major capital programme to transform its country parks. The aim of this investment is increase the income potential of its park estate, enabling the countryside service to be operationally cost neutral by 2018. This got me thinking can museums ever be truly cost neutral or even make a profit?

The traditional answer is no.

The big museums and galleries like the Tate, British Museum or Science Museum receive large government grants, which provide the majority of funding. Some independent museums are able to survive, even thrive, without significant public funding revenue grants. However one of the key elements of a museum is its displays and collections. These costs, even for independents, are partly met by occasional capital grants, normally coming from public aided bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Keeping and caring for collections is not a cheap outlay and few organisations with significant collections have been able to make money from them. The museum sector is uneasy about the commoditisation of collections. Were not collections donated to museums for the public benefit rather than corporate income? That conversation is definitely another blog post.

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