The Heritage Sector from the Perspective of a New Entrant
There are significant strategic changes in heritage at the moment, set against a backdrop of economic hardship, Brexit uncertainty and Government recognition of cultural and digital as economic drivers. But what does that look like to someone just entering into the sector and what positives can come of it? Ellen, recent graduate and one of Culture Syndicates’ Heritage Assistants, explores the recent changes and developments, and what effect they might have on the sector in general.
During my time at University, I have seen evidence of underfunding and uncertainty, not just in the arts but also the research bodies, Universities and support networks that help sustain the sector. University staff have left research positions in order to find more secure employment in teaching at private schools and international staff who came to Britain for the opportunities we once offered have moved back to Europe following the Brexit vote.
It isn’t just arts and heritage that have been hit by the recent economic hardships, but it does seem to be one of the slowest sectors to recover as Britain slowly climbs back to its feet following the 2008 crash. With sport contributing £20.3bn to the UK economy in 2010 compared to heritage tourism’s £26.4bn in 2011, this seems to make little sense. Heritage is vital to the UK, and the apparent lack of investment and provision for it compared to other sectors is immensely frustrating to everyone being affected by it. However, there is strong evidence for increasing top-level recognition of culture and digital as an economic driver, including the Cultural Development Fund which follows a White Paper on culture, Nesta’s report on the potential impact of enhancing high performing ‘Cultural Clusters’ and Sir Peter Bazelgette’s recommendations to Government to develop these areas. Perhaps the arts are about to receive the same recognition and support that sport has seen in recent years? The success of Hull’s City of Culture and the current strategic support for Coventry’s 2021 City of Culture plans demonstrate the huge importance and real-world impact of the arts, not just on wellbeing also but regeneration and aspirations.
There are plenty of new and exciting projects receiving funding from various avenues. Tighter budgets have meant that the priorities for heritage have changed over the past years, and as such, ‘modern’ heritage is a vastly different beast to the one we found a decade ago. In particular, there is a growth in heritage being used as a social tool. There are more and more instances of art and history being used to tackle social issues and help those in our society who have previously struggled, like disabled people or refugee populations. It is certainly worth considering that this is the new reality – modern heritage is more than just a day-trip to the local museum, and is now more about outreach and education, and the utilisation of history and culture in other areas of society.
Brexit in particular poses perhaps one of the biggest threats to the sector in the next few years. The Government has already warned to expect budget cuts of around 6% to all departments by 2019, and already exchange rates against the Pound have resulted in reduced income from Europe and more expensive movement of goods. However, there are some potential opportunities that could be revealed by Brexit – Tony Butler, director of Derby Museums Trust, predicts that international partnerships after Brexit will instead look westward to the US, Australia and Far East. In addition to this, British brands like Burberry have seen sales rise by 30%, perhaps due to increased patriotism and ‘thinking local’, which may extend to heritage. Greater awareness and regard for our own heritage could mean a resurgence of the local history museum.
New entrants to the heritage sector face a myriad of challenges, both in terms of securing their place among the workforce and in getting to grips with the changing landscape of the sector as a whole. However, I am in little doubt that the museum will continue to innovate and evolve, and will find its own place in a post-Brexit Britain. Just as the today’s heritage is vastly different to the heritage sector of twenty years ago, so will the heritage sector of 2038 be unrecognisable from what it is today – new entrants will have to ensure they can keep up!
By Ellen Smithies, Heritage Assistant, Culture Syndicates