The Museums and Galleries Commission was originally established in February 1931 as the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries. It was renamed and given new functions in September 1981. The commission is responsible for advising the government, including the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, the Scottish Education Department and the Welsh Office, on museum affairs. There are fourteen commissioners who are appointed by the prime minister; seven in consultation with museum institutions and seven independently. The commission was originally financed through the Office of Arts and Libraries; in 1992 this responsibility passed to the Department of National Heritage, renamed Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 1997. The Museums and Galleries Commission is a registered charity and on 1 January 1987 it became incorporated under Royal Charter.
The commission's formal mandate is to advise generally on the most effective development of museums and galleries and to advise, and take action as appropriate, on any specific matters which may be referred to it; to promote co-operation between museums and galleries and particularly between the national and provincial institutions; and to stimulate the generosity and direct the efforts of those who aspire to become public benefactors.
The Commission administered a number of project grant schemes and provides a substantial proportion of the funding of the seven English Area Museum Councils, mda (sic) (Museum Documentation Association), CHNTO (Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation) and Tyne and Wear Museums. It provides an advisory service to the government on such specific topics as the allocation of works of art and other items accepted in lieu of capital transfer tax, and the availability of indemnities under the government indemnity scheme for loans to museums. Through the national museums security adviser, the commission advises the government, the directors and governing bodies of national and non-national museums and galleries, and other interested parties on all aspects of the security of museums and exhibitions. It also provides comprehensive guidance to museums on conservation of their holdings.
The Commission was wound up in April 2000. Many of its functions were passed to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.