Museums and galleries, the jewel in the British crown

  • Why museums and galleries are so vital for Britain?
  • How these help the English economy and the brand UK?
  • How these institutions are meeting the challenge of increasing visits?
  • The British Museum and the National Gallery  


Museum and gallery industry comprises organisations (mostly not-for-profit or trusts) that are engaged in the preservation, conservation and exhibition of artefacts with specific historical, cultural, artistic and/or educative values. These include contemporary art galleries and museums. Britain is home to few of the world’s prominent collections and high profile museums and galleries, which is deeply embedded in the country’s community. Museums and galleries are a source of great pride and affection that command a high level of public trust and thus, these attract an ever-increasing number of international and local tourists.                                    

Tourism is the 5th largest industry contributing £121.1 billion (7.1%) to the British GDP, alluring 42 million visitors every year from overseas and supports 3.1 million jobs (Source: The Blue Book, ONS, 2015 Deloitte, Oxford Economics and Visit Britain 2013 and 2015). 


* In 2016, the UK economy grew by only 1.8%, impacted by the Brexit vote

Museums and galleries are country’s most popular attractions and one of the key drivers of tourism. These play a crucial role in the economic growth by attracting international visitors and help build the British brand globally. There are around 1,718 (1,300 in 2011) museums and galleries in the United Kingdom accredited by the Arts Council England (ACE), of this 89 museums hold designated collection status (Source:  Department for Culture Media and Sport, UK (DCMS), 2016). Moreover, two of the world’s top five art museums are in the UK (Source: The Art Newspaper).

In addition, 8 of the top 10 attractions in the UK are museums, galleries and art exhibitors. The British Museum is the most popular attraction in the United Kingdom, this was the utmost liked tourist destination in the past decade (as of 2016).

The British government’s policy on free entry for national museums and galleries significantly contributed in increasing the number of visitors as well as partnership arrangements and loans, this enabled museum properties to move from one art centre to another in the UK and abroad and also attracted large national-international visitors.

Additionally, the overall visits saw an increasing trend in the past 6 years for the DCMS sponsored museums and galleries. Notably, 52.5% (43.0% in 2006) of all the adults in Britain visit a museum or a gallery at least once a year (DCMS, 2016). Thus, making the sector significant for the economy. Furthermore, the proportion of adults visiting online websites of museum and galleries also saw an increase from 15.8% (2006) to 28.6% (2016).

*In 2014/15, DCMS also sponsored the Tyne and Wear Museums, however, they were no longer sponsored in 2015/16, data are presented excluding that of Tyne and Wear Museums

In total, visitors to these attractions increased from 33.6 to 47.7 million (DCMS sponsored institutions). Secondly, overseas visitors accounted for 47% in 2016 (43.8% in 2011).  

Therefore, in order to meet the expectations of this ever-increasing tourist population museums and galleries need to continuously expand/enhance their assets and collections, while taking care of the day to day operations and maintenance. These establishments use their funds and finances primarily for exhibitions and events (including spending on preserving, enhancing and developing the potential collections and requesting/raising donations) and salaries of their employees. Likewise, few expenses are also incurred with respect to the trading activities. Generally, operating expenditure represents nearly 70% of their revenue, though there are variations (Source: National Museum Directors’ Council [NMDC]). In the island nation, most of museum and galleries manage and cover their expenses through available revenue sources.

Televisory analysed the top two museum and gallery operators in the UK, the British Museum (BM) and National Gallery (NG). These are non-departmental public bodies, whose sponsor body is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and enjoy a charitable status governed by the Museum and Galleries Act, 1992. Museum and galleries have developed and provide services that made them the part of most valuable public institutions in Britain. They were able to achieve this feat due to the rich collection of artefacts, the exceptional architecture of their buildings and expertise of staff on the upkeep of collections spanning several years. 

These institutions utilised their capital expenditure majorly by acquiring new heritage assets in order to expand/enhance the collections. Further, maintenance/refurbishments of a museum and gallery require CAPEX, but that is being done on an ad-hoc basis. Congruently, there are other ways to expand/enhance collections, mostly through gifts and donations. But museums and galleries need to continuously invest and purchase collections, this plays a significant role and distinguishes bought collections from gifted or donated antiquities. The British Museum is the apex body with the highest number of objects and exhibits forming a part of its collection, thus with perennial investment on expansion, it will attract a high number of visitors.

Museum and galleries also loan a number of artefacts and collections to other institutions, this is done for exploration of possibilities by allowing a wider access to a bigger population. They exhibit their collections not only domestically but overseas as well in order to improve their brand equity. These significantly contribute to the DCMS’s goal of making Britain the creative hub in the world.


In order to fund their operational and capital expenditure, fundraising is a major source of revenue or finance for this industry, this includes donations or grants from individuals, corporations, crowd funding, sponsorship and membership schemes, etc. all this is dependent on consumer discretionary spending and consumer confidence. The second major source is trading income (includes retail shops, catering, corporate entertainment, special exhibitions and e-commerce, etc.) and lastly in few instances entry fee from visitors. Grant-in-aid, donations and legacy revenue purely depend on an individual’s inclination towards the heritage or arts and culture. Several individuals, foundations and trust occasionally donate in kind (heritage objects and/or articles of artistic value).

On the whole, the direct economic impact of museum and galleries in the UK is estimated to be £1.45 billion (Gross Value Added [GVA]), this is supplemented by several indirect economic benefits and the sector employ more than 38,000 people (Source: TBR 2013 – Art Council England). The museum and galleries in the UK generate great economic benefits by means of tourism, job creation and inward investments. Museum and gallery sector is projected to generate £3 in income for each £1 of public sector funding (Source: TBR 2013 – Art Council England). These also strengthen the British brand by recreating and developing a vibrant and culturally diverse history of the nation. They promote brand UK and culture, locally and internationally. This is done by means of edification on the country’s history and promotion of economic and social objectives. The economic, enlightening and social success of museum and galleries is evident and makes them the most valuable public institution in Britain. These collections and creative artefacts are a source of great pride and esteem for the nation both universally and domestically.

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