More collections projects funded during Covid crisis - Museums Association

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More collections projects funded during Covid crisis

As the Covid-19 lockdown began, our Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund opened up a new funding stream, Sustaining Engagement with Collections, to help bring people closer to collections at a time when traditional, physical access wasn’t possible. The fund offered grants of up to £30,000 from an initial pot of £350,000.

Due to high demand and the exceptional quality of the applications, we diverted more funding to this stream and we’re delighted to say that we’ve been able to award a further eight grants worth a total of £184,000 to museums across the UK. 

The latest projects range from a picture lending library at Leeds City Art Gallery to Towner Eastbourne’s podcast series co-hosted with the LGBTQ+ community. A full list of recipients is below. 

In total, we’ve now awarded £550,730 to 23 museums across the UK – 15% of the total number of applications.  

Although the fund had a quick turnaround, our trustees were impressed by the high quality and innovation of the 145 proposals we received. In our learning digest of the scheme, we found that one fifth of the applications we received were classed as “outstanding”.  

Our research found there’s still a clear need among museums for more of this type of funding. As the pandemic continues, museums are keen to develop virtual tours that can recreate the warm welcome and community spirit that they were known for before lockdown. 

Our research found that: “Sector organisations should consider the importance of the role of museums as community hubs, both for volunteers and visitors, and what reopening can mean with a loss of some of the personal welcome that museums have developed.”  

There was also a clear demand among applicants for technology and basic infrastructural upgrades to allow for more digital engagement. Almost half of the projects (46%) centred around online access for audiences, but we found that 36% of applicants still needed to digitise parts of their collections to enable this.   

Our report advises museums to think about the long-term legacy of their lockdown initiatives and “how their current rush to get material online can turn into more sustainable income generation and form part of long-term strategic plans”. 

The MA’s programmes manager Sally Colvin says: “The applications we received for Sustaining Engagement with Collections grants showed the creativity and ambition of many museums, even during our current difficult times. 

“We’re so pleased to have been able to divert more of our funding towards supporting museums to connect people with collections as we live through the pandemic and to begin to demonstrate ways to address some of our long-standing issues around meaningful online or remote access.”   

Latest funded projects

Cornwall Museums Partnership: £26,300 for New Ways of Navigating Audio Archives Through Voice User Interfaces. To explore how museums can use AI with sound archives to tackle the consequences of isolation in the communities they serve, and to help them understand what users want from them.  

High Life Highland: £29,000 for Folk and Fabric at the Museum. To use digital creation to engage existing and new communities with unseen collections at the Highland Folk Museum. The project will engage existing and new communities using a web platform with digitised collections content and developing an Instagram filter enabling historic dressing up using 3D modelling of costume and accessory collections. 

Leeds City Art Gallery: £29,835 for ‘Commoning’ the Collection: testing models for building communities and sharing collection resources digitally at a time of social distancing. Activities include Wiki activity based on women and BAME artists in the collection and restarting its picture lending library with a digital catalogue and loans to non-art community venues. 

Manchester Museum: £24,300 for To Have and To Heal: towards a blended model of engaging with ancient Egypt collections in a physically distanced world. Using digital engagement to explore themes of colonialism, multiculturalism and bereavement with third sector organisations offering vital support to people at risk of social isolation, schools and care homes. 

National Videogame Museum: £29,167 for Virtual Life in Lockdown: The Animal Crossing Diaries. An engagement project around Animal Crossing, using existing collections and collecting contemporary player experiences during lockdown. Delivering an online collection to boost social and creative engagement during the pandemic and bring new knowledge on collecting intangible experiences.

Towner Eastbourne: £12,405 for Towner’s podcast series co-created with Eastbourne’s LGBTQ+ community. Using collection works as a starting point for exploration and conversation and inviting responses to artworks; aiming to widen engagement and understanding of the collection, strengthen communication within and between communities and grow diverse audiences.  

True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum: £3,900 for Great Change – The Last Generation. To draw out connections between the experience of slum clearance and relocation in the North End of Kings Lynn (1930-1970) with the turbulence of the lockdown period and sense of permanent change, through an oral history project, related digital content and a touring exhibition.  

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums: £29,000 for Mini Must-see…. A project to test the emerging digital programme Must-see Stories. A pilot to create a new digital destination for audiences to immerse themselves in compelling stories, through media such as film, audio, photography, creative writing and narrative journalism.


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