Art Fund puts aside cash to help regionals acquire more artworks - Museums Association

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Art Fund puts aside cash to help regionals acquire more artworks

The Art Fund has intorduced a fund designed to encourage English regions with the lowest acquisition rates to collect more.
Jane Morris
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Under the new scheme called Enriching the Regions, the East of England, East Midlands and West Midlands will be eligible for £45,000 each, thanks to a £130,000 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. It builds on a similar scheme launched in Northern Ireland in 2003 designed to encourage museums to get back into the buying market.

'Museums and galleries are not actively collecting, and are building collections passively,' David Barrie, the director of the Art Fund, said. 'The situation is most acute in these three regions, so we devised a scheme to make it as easy for them as possible.'

The fund will give minimum grants of £2,000, but, unlike most of the grants offered by the Art Fund's main grant scheme, and the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) grants, it will offer up to 100 per cent of the purchase price.

'It is aimed at local authority and independent museums that are not already buying regularly,' Barrie said. 'But we would like to encourage museums to find some match funding, and have enlisted Arts & Business to help them raise money.'

The new grant scheme follows the Art Fund's survey The Collecting Challenge, launched in May (Museums Journal June 2006, p7). The survey found that 70 per cent of acquisitions were by gift, with 95 per cent having little monetary value. 'Only 2 per cent of museums cited collecting as a top priority: the knock on effect is a loss of curatorial skill and stagnant museum collections,' it warned.

Stephen Snoddy, the director of the New Art Gallery Walsall, said it was 'disgraceful that any collection supposedly devoted to the understanding of art, should decide to stop actively collecting'.

This year he said he was determined to purchase Andrew Tift's National Portrait Gallery's BP Portrait Prize-winning portrait of Kitty Garman, the co-founder of Walsall's Garman Ryan collection.

'Andrew Tift comes from Walsall, and he based his picture on an early portrait of Garman that we have in our collection,' he said. 'We went straight to the Art Fund, which offered the £15,000 purchase price almost immediately. By then he had won the prize and could have sold it on the market for at least £25,000, but fortunately he stayed with us.'

Arguably the most famous purchase this year was from a museum in the East of England. Luton Museums Service's acquisition of the Wenlok Jug, for £750,000 in the face of competition from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York reads like a fairy tale.

'It was one of the most nerve-racking things we've ever done,' Maggie Appleton, Luton's museum service manager, said. 'We were in the middle of our £6m lottery application, we had no time and an acquisition budget of £3,000. But we realised we would never forgive ourselves if we didn't try to get something of so much significance for our collections.'

With the help of Marian Campbell, an expert at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Luton managed to rapidly pull together a package from the Art Fund, NHMF, the Friends and the public (including two £5,000 cheques in the post from an anonymous donor).

'Between Christmas and New Year, my family didn't see me and we were having to put in lots of overtime getting all the paperwork and fundraising done. But when I heard we'd done it I was completely overwhelmed,' Appleton said.

Jane Morris

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