A Question of Cash

14 Mar

Ethan Morris, a graduate student in the public history program, is the first MTSU student to participate in the study abroad program at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England! This week’s blog post is about Bede’s World Museum, where Ethan was planning on completing his internship while abroad in Newcastle.


A Question of Cash


Two weeks ago, Bede’s World Museum closed its doors for lack of funds, and now, local papers claim it will reopen. I’ve never witnessed anything like it, and in my opinion, the whole affair is uniquely British. The closure is an example of a troublesome trend. As public funding declines, museums like Bede’s World slowly die from financial starvation. On the other hand, the possible reopening of Bede’s World is a rebirth of sorts, as British museum professionals begin to explore funding options in the private sector.

            I’ll begin with the context of the closure. Like many of England’s cultural organizations, Bede’s World receives much of its funding from the national government or the Heritage Lottery Fund (funds collected from the nationwide sale of lottery tickets). National funding is unfortunately on the decline. Worse still, the northeast is extremely underfunded. The most recent national budget allocated £775 million to cultural organizations. Although it seems like a great deal of money, the budget is a 5% reduction over past years, and most of the money (71%) will remain in the Greater London area. Britain’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport and Arts Council England spend a combined £68.99 per Londoner and £4.58 on everyone else. The national distribution of funds are not even proportional to the amount spent on culture. While London’s Westminster residents contribute £14.5 million to the arts, they receive £408 million in return. In contrast, locals of County Durham (the county directly below Northumberland) spend £34 million on culture and reap £12 million in lottery funds. Journalist Ben Myers calls its the “North-South divide” (For more on Myer’s thoughts, read his article in the New Statesman). Bede’s World did not start out on pennies. Nearly twenty years ago, Bede’s World opened an impressive new facility that cost somewhere in the ballpark of £10 million. Yet, the staff seemed to depend on government funding for most of their projects. Government budgets change over twenty years, and Bede’s World did not weather the storm.

            It is surprising then, that Bede’s World may get another chance at life. A local charity known as Groundwork stepped up to save the museum. It is important to note that Groundwork is a private sector organization. You may not be surprised by that fact, and rightly so, we’re Americans. The majority of American museum professionals realized long ago they could not depend on federal funding. Most historic homes, for example, struggle along on donations from local charitable foundations, businesses, visitors, or city councils. You won’t catch the staff of most historic homes busily sending in applications to the National Endowment for the Humanities. The British, in contrast, while used to donating to medical foundations (like we give to the American Cancer Society) are not accustomed to donating to museums. A British museum professional generally applies for government funding first, and then, if funds are still needed, searches out local donors. Yet, the closure of Bede’s World is one of many catalysts forcing the British to rethink their funding strategies. Some are studying American models of fundraising. Indeed, a friend taking Northumbria University’s Philanthropy and Fundraising course tells me she is constantly assigned readings on American models of fundraising. I’m witnessing a shift in the mindset of British museum professionals, from a dependence on the government (represented by faraway London) toward a reliance on the community. For more information, and a look at my sources, check out Nick Clark’s article in the Independent and Matthew Hemley’s article in The Stage.St.%20Paul%27s%20MonasteryBede’s World hosts programs at St. Paul’s Monastery, the same church the Venerable Bede’ worked in some 1,300 years ago.


Anglo-Saxon%20VillageBede’s World’s recreated Anglo-Saxon village


DocksThe docks along the Tyne River, across from Bede’s World and the working-class town of Jarrow

-Ethan Morris, Public History Graduate Student


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