Acquisitions fund’s record year

Caroline Parry, Issue 116/10, 01.10.2016
The National Fund for Acquisitions helped 27 Scottish institutions buy more than £1m worth of objects in 2015-16
Scotland’s National Fund for Acquisitions supported museums and galleries in acquiring objects worth more than £1m for the first time during its last financial year.

The figure, which was buoyed by three major purchases, was almost double the value of acquisitions over the previous 12-month period.

The highest-priced acquisition was Barbara Hepworth’s Two Forms (Orkney) sculpture, which the Pier Art Centre in Orkney paid £603,000 for at auction.

The fund also supported the Hunterian Museum’s £142,100 acquisition of a pair of sunflower andirons (metal stands) designed by Thomas Jeckyll, and the £100,000 purchase of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh lamp and armchair by the National Trust for Scotland.

Hazel Williamson, manager of the National Fund for Acquisitions, says the organisation is delighted it has exceeded the £1m mark for the first time.

“This spate of purchases was made with extensive partnership funding, but we are encouraged by the figure,” she says. “It shows resourceful museums are finding ways to make ambitious collecting projects a success, despite financial constraints. But we must not become complacent, as that figure would have been higher, but for a number of failed bids at auction.”

The total purchase figure would have exceeded £2m if museums had a better “strike rate” at auction, an issue Williamson attributes to limited funding options.

‘Uphill struggle’

“There are a limited amount of funding options out there and it is an uphill struggle,” she says. Williamson also points to the 25% buyer’s premium charged by auction houses on top of the purchase price as a contributory factor.

The fund has an annual budget of £150,000, provided by the Scottish government to the trustees of National Museums Scotland.

It made 67 payments to 27 organisations in the 2015-16 financial year, and was committed to a further 13 grants totalling £47,630 at the year-end, which have yet to be paid.

The National Fund for Acquisitions’ maximum grant is 50% of an object’s price, which it contributes “on a vast majority of applications”, according to Williamson.

The institution making the purchase has to fund the rest of the acquisition.

Other bodies regularly contribute to purchases alongside the National Fund for Acquisitions. In 2015-16, six purchases received additional support from at least one other funder. These included the Art Fund, Henry Moore Foundation, Monument Trust, National Heritage Memorial Fund and Porthmeor Fund.

“The major purchases will always attract interest from other funders,” says Williamson. “It is the ‘bread and butter’ collections that don’t attract a lot of interest, and that is where we spend a lot of our money.”

The average value of a National Fund for Acquisitions grant is £2,331.

“We are trying to assist on the day-to-day items, as well as the ambitious projects – and we have only £150,000,” says Williamson.

Demand for the fund’s support was so strong over the early part of the last financial year that the government stepped in with an additional £75,000.

Williamson says the help was unexpected and was not something that could be relied on in the future.

“We lost 25% of our funding in 2011-12 and our fund has declined further in real terms since then,” she adds.

The National Fund for Acquisitions received 77 applications in 2015-16. Most were for fine-art acquisitions, and Williamson says there has been a fall in the number of applications for science and technology items.