Money Matters
UKRG Summer event, 17th July 2015
Location: 1.5 Gallery, Design Museum, London

Income Generation for free collection displays
Eleanor Suggett, Assistant Curator of Collections, Design Museum

The Money Matters event began with a presentation looking at the challenges facing Museums and Galleries in developing creative, sustainable ways to generate income. Eleanor rightly pointed out that while it may not be the be-all and end-all, money undoubtedly plays a big part in what we can and can’t do.

Increasing pressure on budgets are affecting the whole sector, with worrying consequences. The Museums Association’s Cuts Survey 2014 revealed that one in ten responding museums and galleries considered financially-motivated disposal in the previous year.

This session looked in detail at the ways in which the Design Museum have sought to generate sustainable income in order to fund collection displays. As you would expect from a museum dedicated to the display of enterprising and provocative design, some of the new proposed revenue streams involve some very exciting ideas.

To provide some background, the Design Museum is an independent, medium sized museum operating with around 65 staff. A registered charity, the museum receives no formal financial support from the Government relying instead on the generosity of individuals, companies, charitable trusts and foundations to help fund its programmes. Over 95% of museum running costs are generated from admissions, membership, trading, donations and sponsors.

In 2016, the culmination of a £80m capital project will see The Design Museum relocate to the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington ( The move represents a significant cultural, and well as geographical shift. Joining the ranks of London’s ‘Museum Quarter’ will undoubtedly mean a change both visitor demographic and overall numbers. In it’s first year the newly opened Museum expects to welcome over 500,000 visitors – a big increase on the 2013-14 figure of just over 167,000.

Eleanor advised that in order to develop ideas for income generation, the museum began by asking itself some key questions –

• Do we know our current and future audiences well? Can we predict what they want?
• How much time can we feasibly commit to looking at collection income streams?
• Do all teams understand the importance of fundraising?
• Do we have in-house experience/expertise to maximise on?
• Can we evaluate what we are doing now?

Out of this self assessment came a number of new ideas for income generation, capitalising on the momentum that will come with the opening of the new Museum building and the increased audience reach.

Moving forward, the museum will be commissioning a number of retail items inspired by the collection to be sold in the shop. A large percentage of the profits from these items will be ploughed back into the collections budgets. In addition, there will be also be 10 photographic commissions on the theme of possessions. These thought-provoking images will be available as limited edition prints in the shop and the museum will also be selling the rights for reproduction to a potentially wide range of outlets.

One of the more unusual ideas for product ranges involves developing several limited edition objects to be available in the museum shop and online. This all sounds fairly run-of-the-mill until you introduce the additional concept of a having a specially built machine in the gallery space itself, manufacturing these objects in front of visitors. The idea is that visitors will be able to ‘commission’ their own customized versions of these objects, fostering an invested interest in what they are creating.

Touring exhibitions are an important source of income for the museum with two exhibitions staff working solely on the creation and administration of such shows. The currently touring ‘A Century of Chairs’ exhibition ( has generated over £65,000 worth of income. There is a strong commitment to both making the collection work for the museum and opening up access in order to open up dialogue.

Many thanks to the UKRG and Blackwall Green for the travel bursary which allowed me to attend this event.

Siân Millar, Assistant Registrar, Manchester City Galleries