National Galleries of Scotland issues closure warning over growing cash 'crisis'
Edinburgh’s flagship art galleries are facing extended or partial closure in the face of the “perfect storm” engulfing the Scottish cultural sector.
The National Galleries of Scotland, which runs four of the city’s most popular visual art attractions, is also considering cutting back their opening times as it grapples with deepening financial turmoil.
Its director general, Sir John Leighton, has warned the combined impact of soaring inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, rising energy bills and lower visitor numbers have left his organisation facing a crisis “more serious and more difficult to deal with than the pandemic itself”,
He has told the Scottish Parliament the National Galleries’ energy bills are expected to at least double next year and run into seven figures for the first time.
The National Galleries runs the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which attracted more than 2.5 million visitors a year before the pandemic.
However, Sir John said his organisation was facing a funding challenge “the like of which I have never before witnessed or, indeed, imagined”.
He said his priority for next year and beyond was “how we protect the collection, keep the lights on and doors open – and that is it”.
The National Galleries is one of several arts organisations to issue dire warnings about the future to Parliament.
Sir John told Holyrood’s culture committee: “Already, before the events of recent months, we were looking at a pretty substantial deficit in our budget for next year, widening in the years beyond that.
“When you layer in the lingering impact of the pandemic and when you layer in the dramatic inflationary costs that we are seeing at the moment – the pressure to try to keep paying a fair wage to our staff and, particularly in our sector, the rising energy costs, which for my organisation are predicted to at least double next year from a six-figure sum to a seven-figure sum – you are talking about a crisis that feels more serious and more difficult to deal with than the pandemic itself.”
Sir John said funding support had “never recovered” from the impact of the 2008 financial crash.
He said: “We have reached a point now where 92 per cent of our grant-in-aid goes to the salary bill.
“All the other things that make a difference, whether it is displays, exhibitions, learning, education programmes – you name it – are now covered by earned income.
“The model broke during the pandemic, of course. That income shrivelled and we are now in a period where it has not yet recovered.
“With the two key parts of the funding – government subsidy and the self-generated income – under pressure, we face a crisis that will, in our case, lead to a severely reduced offer, with national and international programmes reduced, different patterns of opening hours and partial closure of sites.
“In short, we will have an offer that falls severely short of what you would expect from a national cultural organisation."
Sir John added: “Certainly, we are modelling different forms of opening hours – for instance, closing a couple of days a week at certain sites, perhaps having a partial closure of a site or closing one site for extended periods.”