A wooden drinking tankard held in the Designated collection of the Mary Rose Museum. Image © Gareth Gardner

ACE publishes revised vision for Designation scheme

Geraldine Kendall, 18.08.2014
Application criteria to refocus on scheme's "founding principles"
Arts Council England (ACE) is to refocus Designation back on its founding principles of “quality and national significance” and may start intervening when collections are at risk, according to a vision for the scheme published in July.

Designation is a mark of distinction for pre-eminent collections of national significance in non-national museums, libraries and archives in England. The scheme has been closed to new entrants since spring 2013.

In the report, entitled Pearls and Wisdom, ACE said: “We are reasserting the founding principles of the scheme – celebrating and helping to safeguard vital collections for present and future generations.

According to Pearls and Wisdom, the arts council is keen to move away from the perception that the Designation scheme is a “quasi-standard” similar to the Accreditation scheme.

ACE confirmed that there would no longer be an assessment of the holding organisation’s performance in the revised application criteria, saying this had “understandably caused confusion with Designation being perceived as the next natural developmental progression after Accreditation”.

The arts council is also exploring what measures it can take to step in when Designated collections are at risk, something it was urged to do in a consultation with stakeholders last year.

ACE said it was actively reviewing its “intervention principles and protocols” for such cases, but said it would not be realistic to seek legislative protection for collections. 

During last year’s consultation, stakeholders including the Museums Association urged the arts council to put public benefit and engagement at the core of the scheme.

In the report, the arts council emphasised the scheme’s commitment to the public, stating that in order to gain Designated status, collections needed to be “in constituted organisations with a clear focus on public access”.

ACE added that it would “continue to encourage ambition and leadership in relation to these collections and their wider role for society” and would use its public investment to support the development of Designated collections for the “long-term public benefit”.

In a foreword to the booklet, arts council chief executive Alan Davey said: “It continues to be important that the best collections are identified and supported and most importantly – used and enjoyed.

"We are sure that these plans will provide the basis for the scheme to thrive, and will focus attention on the exceptional value and potential of these outstanding collections.”

A spokeswoman from the arts council said the revised scheme is currently in pilot phase and is due to reopen for applications in spring 2015.

There are currently 140 Designated collections in England.