Art Fund’s £2m lever to reopen museums

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Art Fund has today announced a £2m programme to help museums and galleries work towards reopening, including an innovative exhibition sharing scheme.

Following its own Covid-19 impact report the fund has identified the needs after hearing from 400 museum and gallery directors, with grants and strategic partnerships to help reopening and beyond.

“The future of our museums and galleries, which are so vital to society, is far from certain” said Jenny Waldman, the charity’s new director (pictured). “Art Fund is putting every effort into helping museums through the current crisis, informed by our recent report into what museums and galleries need, and following the exceptional immediate response from public funders which provided a lifeline for many organisations.

“We encourage all those at immediate risk or reimagining future ways of working to get in touch. However, these steps alone will not secure the future - more help is required. We are now fundraising so we can continue to support museums and galleries and we're calling for everyone to come together now to help museums and galleries adapt and thrive during the biggest challenge in our lifetime” she said.

The report revealed damaging unavoidable measures such as cancelled exhibitions and conservations projects, and lost community projects had taken their toll. It showed 56% of directors were worried about the viability of their organisations, and 85% were concerned about attracting visitors back.

The four areas needing the most urgent action were identified as the future of collections and exhibitions, digital skills and infrastructure, reopening and encouraging audiences back, and supporting a skilled workforce. Art Fund is making £1.5m available for Respond and Reimagine Grants – open for applications from today – to cover those priorities and support reopening, as well as encouraging creative and innovative projects as organisations look to reopen with fundamentally different operating models.  

Three new strategic partnerships will help reach smaller museums at serious risk to build skills within workforces and to re-focus on collections. Existing emergency funds were not available to 12% of institutions. There is to be an additional £250,000 for Small Project Grants and Network in quick-turnaround funds, and the Art Fund also has making free digital services available to help museums with ticketing, crowdfunding and audience engagement. Free development opportunities, including online training, new case studies and other learning resources are being made available at

A £35,000 collaboration with Clore Leadership to support sector professionals will build skills, competencies and connections for current and future resilience and innovation. Art Fund’s existing programme will also be bolstered with an additional £250,000 for Small Project Grants and Network Grants - flexible, quick-turnaround funds to support museums reach audiences and develop professional networks - which have been open and helping organisations improve digital infrastructure, reach audiences and develop networks from the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And in a £280,000 partnership with the Museum Development Network additional grants will be available to museums who have not yet received emergency public funding, and smaller museums fulfilling specific cultural or local needs. £150,000 will be provided in seed funding for the newly established Museums and Galleries Network for Exhibition Touring to support an ambitious programme for co-curated, collections-based exhibitions to tour nationally. A £35,000 collaboration with Clore Leadership will be available to help build skills.

The grant will support the inaugural collaborative project Hair, Untold Stories, an innovative exhibition using anthropological collections to explore global hair cultures, to launch at the Horniman Museum and Gardens (who are the lead MAGNET partner) in October 2021 before touring to Museums Sheffield and Tullie House in Carlisle.

The new network of twelve museums and galleries aims to allow organisations to pool resources, develop curatorial expertise and share their collections with diverse national audiences. Co-curated touring exhibitions are a powerful potential tool in helping the limited funds museums will have for exhibitions go further. They also respond to historic challenges faced by regional organisations including a lack of affordable quality touring exhibitions and budget cuts reducing the ability to generate exhibitions. The partnership between Art Fund and MAGNET will develop a replicable and sustainable model for collaboration between regional museums that could create a long-term legacy for the sector and help bring regional collections to wider audiences.

“Each museum in MAGNET has in its stored collections huge numbers of objects with a wealth of stories to tell, yet we each lack the resources to create new exhibitions to tell those stories. By working together, we all have a chance to showcase our collections, share knowledge and resources, and bring to our visitors a series of new and relevant exhibitions for a fraction of the cost of buying them in or creating each one ourselves. This new collaborative way of working will be a powerful tool both in helping the limited funds museums have for exhibitions go further and in supporting our recovery in a post-coronavirus world.”

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