British Museum’s record-breaking £8.8m grant

The British Museum has received its biggest ever grant, given to extend its global material knowledge programme.

£8.8m has been awarded to the museum by Arcadia, the charity set up in 2001 by the Tetra Pak heiress Dr Lisbet Rausing and her husband Peter Baldwin, a history professor, to extend the BM’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP).

Image shows Marka Dafing women spinning wild silk in Burkina Faso (Photo: Laurence Douny)

The EMKP is unique on that it offers grants to researchers globally for detailed fieldwork to record disappearing or endangered practices, knowledge that has helped communities to thrive but which are dying and taking their practices with them.

Since it began in in 2018 projects in 24 countries have been supported, including work on beekeeping in Kenya, paper clothes making in Japan and the traditions of mouth harp making and playing in Cambodia. The grant means the programme can continue for another seven years, and support larger projects as well as enhance the curating of the archive.

“In our rapidly changing world, this programme helps preserve the richness, diversity and complexity of human knowledge” said Dr Rausing. “We are grateful for the passion of EMKP’s grantees and the communities who have shared their wisdom, and for the British Museum’s expertise and support of this work. This endeavour will safeguard disappearing knowledge and make it freely accessible for the benefit of generations to come.”

Ceri Ashley, head of EMKP, said the support of Arcadia had allowed the programme to keep working through the pandemic, reviewing and selecting grants for work that is even more threatened by Covid.In the last few months” she said “we have offered grants for work on stone walling in Zimbabwe – a practice that can be dated back hundreds of years to the World Heritage Site of Great Zimbabwe, ceramic production in Ecuador, Peru, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, and a project that works with the Dalai Lama’s tailor to record the rituals and traditions of how his clothes are made.”

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