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Art Fund unblocks £2m in grants to reopen UK museums and 'prevent immediate insolvency'

Charity's Covid-19 crisis support package includes £150,000 to launch new network of touring exhibitions

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in south London is leading a network of 12 UK institutions co-producing touring exhibitions based on their collections, with seed funding from the Art Fund Photo: Joel Knight

The Art Fund is unlocking more than £2m in rapid-response funding to support UK museums and galleries preparing to reopen amid the Covid-19 pandemic, after months of lost visitor income.

“The future of our museums and galleries, which are so vital to society, is far from certain,” warns Art Fund’s director, Jenny Waldman, in a statement. The UK fundraising charity, which has run major appeals to acquire Titian masterpieces for the National Gallery and National Galleries Scotland and most recently to save Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, is now calling on its more than 150,000 members to help museums “adapt and thrive during the biggest challenge in our lifetime”, Waldman says.

The charity is making a total of £1.5m available to meet “immediate and practical funding needs” in four areas identified by its Covid-19 impact survey of museum professionals: collections and exhibitions, digital skills and infrastructure, reopening and encouraging audiences to return, and supporting staff. The research found that 85% of museum directors are concerned about attracting visitors back and 56% are worried about the financial viability of their organisation, with serious deficits and cashflow problems widely anticipated.

From today, UK museums, galleries, historic houses, libraries and archives (including visual arts organisations without a physical venue) may apply for “Respond and Reimagine” grants of between £10,000 and £50,000. Applications for the first batch of grants will close on 6 July, with further funding rounds closing on 17 August and 12 October. It is hoped the programme will offer a lifeline to “museums that are unable to access sufficient emergency public funding to prevent immediate insolvency”.

Grants under £10,000 will be awarded in partnership with the Museum Development Network up to a value of £280,000, with priority given to small organisations that have fallen through the cracks of existing emergency coronavirus funds. Such community-based venues, which are often run by volunteers, comprise 56% of accredited museums in the UK, according to Art Fund.

The charity is also providing £150,000 to launch a new initiative producing UK touring exhibitions drawing on the collections of 12 institutions—a collaborative solution to the squeeze on exhibition budgets. The Museums and Galleries Network for Exhibition Touring (Magnet) is led by the Horniman Museum and Gardens in south London, and also includes National Museums Liverpool, Bristol Museums and Glasgow Museums. The first show will focus on global hair cultures and is due to open at the Horniman in October 2021 before travelling to Sheffield and Carlisle. Art Fund’s money will “establish a new project manager role and support exhibition and touring costs including transport, storage and installation” for the pilot phase, a spokeswoman says.

Art Fund will commit an additional £250,000 to top up its existing grants schemes for small projects (under £10,000) and professional networks (under £15,000), which have remained open throughout the pandemic.

“We encourage all those at immediate risk or re-imagining future ways of working to get in touch,” Waldman says.

Meanwhile, the public funding body Arts Council England (ACE) announced today that it has distributed grants totalling almost £65m from its £160m Covid-19 emergency response package to 7,484 individual creatives (£17.1m) and 2,182 independent arts organisations (£47.7m). A further £90m will be released to support organisations in ACE's national portfolio, with decisions on those grants to be announced in July.