Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund

The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund supports a range of projects that bring collections closer to people.

We award the fund on behalf of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to projects that demonstrate the significance, distinctiveness and power of collections to people.

The fund has awarded £9.7m to 136 since it launched in 2011. Most recently, we have awarded 26 Sustaining Engagement with Collections grants to support work that responds to the Covid-19 pandemic by finding ways to share collections while traditional and physical access is not possible.

The funding we offer

Our funding is separated into two types of grant. Both grants follow a two-stage application process. We have made some changes to our dates and deadlines of these funds to enable us to respond to the immediate needs of museums during lockdown and social distancing. 

We would like to reassure current and potential grantees that we will continue to be flexible during this period of uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The timelines for our Innovation and Engagement (£90k over 2-3 years) and Strategy and Development grants (£250k over 5 years) have changed due the Covid-19 pandemic. In late 2020 we will award c.£500k of Innovation and Engagement grants; this fund is currently closed for applications.

Strategy and Development grants will be awarded in 2021 to give applicants opportunity to reflect on how their plans need to change as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Collections Innovation and Engagement grants

Collections Innovation and Engagement grants are usually awarded twice a year in spring and autumn. This year we will award only one set of projects from a total pot of £500k.

These grants of up to £90k over two years are available for outstanding ideas that make a strong link between the collection, the people you want to work with, and the activities and context of your organisation.

How to apply:

This fund is currently closed for applications.

Key dates: 

  • Shortlisted applicants will be invited to submit a full application in November.
  • Decisions will be made by our selection committee in December.

We strongly recommend you seek advice from staff at the MA before applying to ensure the project is a good fit.

Collections Strategy and Development grants 

Grants of up to £250k for projects running for five years or under will be awarded to initiatives that use collections work to support the established strategy of an organisation for longer term benefit.

This type of grant aims to accelerate the development of museums that are ready to find new ways and do more to involve their audience and communities with collections. It’s designed to help organisations overcome some of the barriers of traditional project funding, and the MA will offer additional coaching where our skills and network can add benefit.

This fund was due to award its first projects in 2020, but we have postponed this round to 2021. We hope that this will enable organisations to fully understand the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19) on their business plans and long term strategies. Some applicants have already been contacted by us to advise that they will be invited to talk with us in autumn 2020 in order to submit an expression of interest in 2021, should their project remain relevant or to discuss any potential change as a result of the current situation.

How to apply:

Before submitting an expression of interest, you will need to speak to a member of our team to discuss your project – this is because the strategy and development grant process is more time-consuming for applicants. We would ask that you delay contacting us about this fund until September 2020 to enable us to prioritise working with Sustaining Engagement with Collections and Innovation and Engagement applicants.

Suitable projects will then be invited to submit expressions of interest in Spring 2021 (8-12 projects in total). It is recommended that you speak to a member of our team before March 2021.

Key dates:

We anticipate that these will be the dates for the 2021 round of Collections Strategy and Development grants but these are subject to change, so please keep checking this site for updates.

  • September 2020 – March 2021: speak to Sarah Briggs or Sally Colvin about your idea and obtain expression of interest form
  • May 2021: submit expression of interest
  • June 2021: our selection committee will create a shortlist of projects
  • September 2021: we will invite shortlisted projects to submit a full application, with the support of MA staff by September
  • December 2021: Decisions will be made by our selection committee


Please contact Sarah Briggs or Sally Colvin for advice on eligibility for the fund and help to develop applications:

Case studies

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