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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Funding the British Museum
British Museum
The museum is able to generate some of its revenue
By the British Museum's finance department

The British Museum is funded partly by grant-in-aid from the government, via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Funds are also boosted by revenue-raising activities such as onsite retail, catering, corporate hire, sponsorship income, Great Court trading, Friends' organisations and also through patrons and donors schemes.

Total expenditure budget for the British Museum, for the year 2001 /2, is expected to be 46,363,000, while the grant from the DCMS for the year 2001/2 is 35,969,000.

The British Museum has a history of continual under investment - both in the property and the staff - and in order realise these necessary and worthy initiatives the museum needs a budget increase of 3m, on an annual basis.

British Museum
The museum has 5.5 million people visiting annually
But it will benefit from the recent amendment to the tax law, which now enables the museum to recover VAT.

This means that in the future, it will be able to recover nearly 1.2m lost in tax. Although this figure will make a difference to the museum's overall budget, deficits are still predicted on the annual accounts.

Many of the museum's new initiatives, such as development of an e-strategy and changes to the building to increase access, involve the investment of money by the museum.

It is very difficult, however, to draw a direct comparison between the funding for ourselves and other institutions, due to the variety of the collections, the difference between the numbers of visitors each institution receives, and the size of the institution.

The British Museum's funding is dependent upon meeting performance targets

However there is a direct correlation between the number of visitors received and the level of funding given to a museum or gallery.

The British Museum is visited on average by 5.5 million people annually (taken from figures over the last five years) and it receives about 36m in grant-in-aid.

The grant-in-aid given to the National Gallery (also a free institution) is in the region of 19.5m and annual visitor attendance averages at nearly 4.5m.

Meanwhile the Geffrye Museum which is also a free collection receives close to 1.1m in funding from the DCMS and their visitor figures are in the range of 80,000 annually.

Virtual access

Although there is a relationship between funding and visitor numbers, this is not the only criterion for government funding.

The British Museum's funding is dependent upon meeting performance targets agreed between management and the DCMS.

These relate to areas such as increasing the numbers and categories of visitors, boosting self-generated income, expanding virtual access to the collections, longer opening hours and raising the number of outreach projects.

Full details of how these are met by the museum are also explained in the funding agreement.


Income from the British Museum Company is projected at 1.4m - from on-site (and off-site, such as the terminal four shop at Heathrow airport) sales of books, replicas and other merchandise.

Catering raises 0.9m, while Great Court trading raises 2.9m, from exhibitions ticket revenue, tours, audio guides, catering in the Great Court, corporate hire, commercial services and also visitor donations.

The average donation to the museum is 0.15, and the museum receives an average total of 2.48 per visitor if onsite spending is combined.

The museum also raises 1.7m through sponsorship of posts in both the education and curatorial departments, which also raise 1.3m from lectures, study days and loan fees etc.

Great Court
The Museum's glass roof is made from 3,000 panels
The museum generates another 5.7m through a variety of other means - these include membership to Friends' organisations, sponsorship of exhibitions and galleries, private donors and patrons and also interest on monies held by the museum.

The recent Great Court project highlights the museum's ability to generate income. The project cost 106m, of which 30m was donated by the Millennium Commission, 15.75m by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the remainder was raised from private sources.

The other areas which contribute to the museum's income generation are through the public and educational programmes.

Major elements of the museum's expenditure are as follows:

  • 13.5m is spent the curatorial departments and the education department.

  • 17.5m is spent on "operations" including security, building management (maintenance of current estate rather than new building projects ), information technology systems and also staffing costs for all of these.

  • The department of Marketing and Public Affairs, responsible for ensuring visitor satisfaction and producing on- and off-site promotional literature (from posters to the design of temporary exhibitions), has an expenditure of 11.3m.

  • The British Museum Development Trust spends 0.8m on raising money for future projects, obtaining sponsorship and organising fundraising events for current and future donors and patrons.

  • The museum also has to allow a budget for Capital expenditure, and our expenditure for this year is in the region of 16m.

This money acts as an investment for the future of the museum providing essential money for fire alarms, information systems and future developments such as the Study Centre.

Funding agreements for grant-in-aid to museums and galleries are available from the Department for Culture Media and Sport's website (

BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
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