‘Severe lack’ of information on Ireland’s independent museums, committee hears

Museums have role to play in night-time economy, Oireachtas group is told

Culture Night 2021 at Collins Barracks. Cultural institutions should be used as spaces  where arts and culture are going on continually, a committee has heard. Photograph: Maxwells

Culture Night 2021 at Collins Barracks. Cultural institutions should be used as spaces where arts and culture are going on continually, a committee has heard. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Available information on museums which are independently operated is “severely lacking”, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of museums in the Republic are not directly funded by the Government and are independently run, usually on a not-for-profit basis.

Irish Museums Association (IMA) chair Dr Audrey Whitty said there was a lack of information about the number of visitors to these museums, what is in their collections, staffing levels and how they are funded.

The association represents 350 museums and cultural institutions on an all-island basis.

Dr Whitty told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media on Wednesday that there was a need for a body to establish a “clear and considered national strategy for museum development”.

The IMA’s director of operations Gina O’Kelly said it is compiling a report as to the losses incurred by the independent museum sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many had lost money not just as a result of a loss of entrance fees, but also due to the closure of their cafes and shops and spaces that they hired out to the community.

Ms O’Kelly revealed that many independent Irish museums were unable to enhance their digital offering during the pandemic. “Some museums did not have the capacity to avail of some of the supports that were there and were extended to them.”

Museums only attracted 5 to 10 per cent of their usual business in the summer of 2020 as a result of the pandemic, she stated.

That has been recouped in 2021, but the independent museum sector still needed an awareness campaign and visitor surveys to find out who their audience is, she added.

Measure of success

National Museum of Ireland chairwoman Catherine Heaney told the committee that prior to the pandemic, the success of museums was measured by visitor numbers.

That had been “completely turned on its head” by the pandemic, she suggested, and museums now needed to be more integrated into the community and be places where people can visit cafes and use the wifi as they do in other countries.

She stated that museums can have a role to play in the night-time economy, or more precisely, the early-evening economy.

“The how is the deeper question. Everything is resource-driven. All our galleries have important collections that need care and attention. It would be an addition to our resource requirements, but there would be so much payback,” she suggested.

National Museum of Ireland (NMI) director Lynn Scarff said the NMI will continue to operate in a hybrid manner, ie both in person and online, into the future.

An event to mark Earth Day last year attracted 27,000 visitors online, she revealed.

“It allows us to be more national all the time in terms of our programming,” she said.

She added that the NMI had hosted the Mother Block Party at Clarke Square in Collins Barracks last week. “The time is right for our cultural institutions to be used as spaces for the public realm where arts and culture are going on continually.”

In response to a question from Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield, Ms Scarff said the NMI board ratified a statement on decolonisation last June.

There was a “huge amount of work to be done from a provenance perspective” in their collection that been acquired overseas, she suggested.

“We are very much committed to that. The key piece for us is communication and dissemination of the collection so that other communities around the world are aware of what we hold and why we hold it.”