Donation from US philanthropist keeps oldest Clyde-built vessel afloat - Museums Association

Donation from US philanthropist keeps oldest Clyde-built vessel afloat

Surprise boost for Scottish Maritime Museum, which is participating in the #SupportOurMuseums campaign
Fundraising maritime
Victoria Miller
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The Kyles on water
The Kyles on water Scottish Maritime Museum, photo by Grace Melton

Fundraising efforts to preserve one of Britain’s most historic and important vessels were given an unexpected boost by a donation from an American billionaire philanthropist.

Staff at the Scottish Maritime Museum set up the Keep the Kyles Afloat funding appeal on 24 November as part of the Museums Association’s (MA) #SupportOurMuseums campaign with the fundraising platform Crowdfunder.

The museum was hoping to raise money to restore Kyles, the 148-year-old ship believed to be the oldest Clyde-built vessel still afloat in the UK.

Mid-way through the appeal, staff were amazed when they received an email on 7 December informing them that American philanthropist John Paul deJoria wished to donate £15,000 to the appeal.

Matthew Bellhouse Moran, curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: “We genuinely couldn’t believe it […] Disbelief was followed by joy and relief that we were going to meet our funding target.”

The museum’s original target was £15,000, which would enable it to repair and repaint the vessel. DeJoria’s gift, alongside 52 other donations, however, means that the museum can be more ambitious about the restoration of the ship.

Bellhouse Moran said: “We can now investigate getting Kyles moving under its own power, which is really great and not something we would have considered otherwise.” The Kyles has not been able to power itself for more than a decade.

John Kavulich, an advisor to DeJoria, said that within hours of the philanthropist reading about the crowdfunding campaign in Maritime Executive, a maritime industry magazine, DeJoria had asked, “How do we support them? Send them what they need.”

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Mr Kavulich said that DeJoria’s response to the funding appeal “was an immediate ‘this is great, this is history, it’s Scotland, I can help and I want to help’.”

The donation came from DeJoria personally rather than his charitable foundation.

DeJoria, whose net wealth is around $2.7bn, has connections to Scotland through his former business partner, Paul Mitchell, who was from South Lanarkshire. He also owns Taymouth Castle in Perthshire.

Bellhouse Moran said: “It was less than 12 hours between receiving the first email and getting the donation, which was incredible.”

The museum now has a new stretch target of £25,000, of which around £20,000 has been raised. The museum has six days left to reach its new target.

Work on Kyles will start next year, and it is hoped that the vessel will be restored in time for its 150th anniversary in 2022.

The vessel was built in 1872 on the west of Scotland. Before it was handed to Scottish Maritime Museum in 1984, it changed owners 24 times. In its time as a working vessel, it was used for various activities including as a cargo ship and as a sand dredger.

The Scottish Maritime Museum, based on Irvine Harbourside and in Dumbarton, was established in 1982 to care for and promote Scotland's maritime heritage. 

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The #SupportOurMuseums campaign aims to help museums as they face the huge challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Twenty-one projects have raised more than £65,600 between them so far. Institutional MA members are still able to sign up to create their own crowdfunding campaigns.

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