Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

History Wins the Lottery

September 14, 2009 · 2 Comments

A few days ago, Sarah and I finally decided to finally visit the John Soane Museum. Although I had been hearing quite a bit from people about the museum, it is definitely something to be experienced! The museum is a pack-rat’s dream, with each room crowded with so many artifacts and architectural pieces that it is hard to not accidentally graze something with your arm. Even so, the museum was quite sufficient at trying to display as much as they could, for clearly Soane liked to collect a lot of his favorite things.

One of the first things I noticed, being a museum person, was the general upkeep of the museum. About 3/4 of the objects I felt were free to wear and tear from not being under some sort of protection. The house, although it was, I felt, quite large for a home museum in London still could not sufficiently display all of the objects, and I am sure there are even more in storage. My questions were somewhat answered with a visit to the third floor.

On the third floor, it displayed an elaborate plan for future renovations and improvements on the museum. Many of the designs were to expand on the structure and create better ways to display the many, many objects in the museum. As I looked at these displays, I wondered how many of these historic buildings, like the Soane, receive funding. I know in America we have the National Trust for Historic Preservation that funds the upkeep of many a historic site. In London though, I had noticed many museums, historic and art based, being funded by the National Lottery.

I know for me, since I live in Pennsylvania, our lottery “benefits older Pennsylvanians”. The National Lottery here in England though, has an outlet called Good Causes where the money goes towards charitable causes, education, sports, the arts and heritage. For each the art and heritage causes, the Lottery distributed 16.67% of their funds. This was interesting to me because do I rarely see, at least in Pennsylvania, the lottery going towards museums. The National Lottery here in England has benefited museums and art galleries in past decade or so, through increased funding and allowing many of these places to administer free admission. Through both of these benefits of the National Lottery, museums and galleries have seen their attendances increase dramatically. An article called, Museums: after the Lottery boom showed that for example, at the V&A, it “saw attendances increase from 75,773 in November 2000 to 132,882 in November 2001.” This is incredible. From working and volunteering in many museums back at home, I know how many struggle with just attendance, let alone funding.

Now back to the John Soane Museum. Through the Heritage Lottery Fund program, the museum was awarded in 2007 a grant for improvements on the site. They were awarded £28,900 for project planning, education, exhibits, and conservation of the museum. The Soane Museum then waited to submit an application for a grant of £3.3 million for their Opening up the Soane project in March 2008. It has since become a £6 million project to “restore, refirbish, and improve” the Sir John Soane Museum. The main drive for these projects, besides creating a new and improved space, is allowing the museum to be more easily accessable to the disabled, and this is why they can receive much of their funding by claiming as such. According to the Soane Foundation’s website, this is all to be completed in 2012 (along with many other projects in London) for the 200th anniversary of the building at its site.

The National Lottery Good Causes foundation seems to benefit many local and national organizations, museums and galleries included. It has allowed for attendance to be increased through free admission at sites where that is a feat in itself. It has allowed for museums to receiving funding to make the improvements necessary for future generations to learn from and preserve it for them. At first I was skeptical of these places being funded by the National Lottery, but its benefits for all areas of local and national heritage, art and history cannot be beaten. I think this would be a great thing for America to adopt because I have seen one too many museums close in my area from lack of funding, attendance, and support.

Categories: Alli · Museums
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