Challenge to funding model for UK museums

Online venture Culture Label is the latest in a series of revenue-boosting moves

David Gilbert, chairman of the Contemporary Arts Society finance committee, has set up an initiative that aims to generate up to 30% extra revenue for UK museums and galleries—a welcome move at a time of major funding and sponsorship worries. Culture Label ( is an online venture that unites the retail outlets of 60 British arts institutions, allowing worldwide access to their products. A museum such as the Baltic in Gateshead can now sell items unique to its shop, such as its “Angel of the North necklace”, to a global audience through the Culture Label website. Those taking part in the scheme include major London venues such as the Tate, the V&A, the British Museum and the Royal Academy through to regional institutions such as Ikon in Birmingham, the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Bluecoat in Liverpool, and countrywide organisations such as English Heritage and the National Trust. Although the site currently links only UK organisations, the plan is to make it a global venture, connecting museums and arts institutions across the world on one site.

It’s important to understand that you don’t have to rely on public funding for growth,” says Gilbert, who is also involved in other schemes to increase revenue for UK institutions. He sits on the commercial board of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Ventures, which has increased the gallery’s commercial revenue from £20,000 in 2001 to £250,000 in 2008/9 through schemes such as Limited Editions—with affordable works by artists including Anish Kapoor and Paul McCarthy available through the gallery shop and online. All profits go directly back into the institution. Gilbert also sits on the board of Artco, the commercial arm of the Arts Council, which has pioneered the Own Art scheme ( This offers an interest-free credit facility for the public to acquire works of art from around 200 UK galleries. “Its financial success is creating new sources of revenue for publicly funded and private galleries,” says Gilbert. “The scheme has enjoyed sales of over £2m, with typically £7 of customer money being spent for every £1 of public subsidy on each work bought.”

News story published on The Art Newspaper website 18 August, 2009