In brief | The latest moves, projects and funding news - Museums Association

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In brief | The latest moves, projects and funding news

New collections hub for Coventry and funding available for curatorial fellowship
Coventry's former Ikea will be transformed into a national collections hub
Coventry's former Ikea will be transformed into a national collections hub Buttress
Collections hub planned for Coventry’s former Ikea store

Plans have been submitted for a major new collections research and storage facility in Coventry, which will be known as the City Centre Cultural Gateway. The project will involve the conversion of a vacant 50,000m² former Ikea building, acquired by the council in 2021, into a hub for nationally recognised collections. The centre will provide stable conditions for storing collections and allow for public access to the collections through regular public tours, school, and research visits.

The project will allow Arts Council England and the British Council to collate their entire collections within a single facility. It aims to establish the site as a hub for the care and national and international distribution of their collections within a single location.

The project is being led by the design studio Buttress. Associate director Matthew Burl said: “This landmark project will not only create a new, state-of-the-art home for some of the country’s greatest works of art, but it will also allow more people in the UK and across the world to engage with these important collections.”

Export bar extended on Reynolds portrait
Installation view of Portrait of Omai, (c1776) by Sir Joshua Reynolds Image courtesy of the owner

Arts and heritage minister Stephen Parkinson has extended the export bar on Portrait of Omai (c1776) by Sir Joshua Reynolds until 10 June 2023 to give the National Portrait Gallery more time to raise the £50m necessary to acquire the painting. The portrait depicts Mai, the first Polynesian to visit Britain, and is widely regarded as Reynolds’ finest portrait, representing a pivotal point in art history. The work has always been in private ownership and has not been on public display in the UK since 2005.


The National Portrait Gallery and Art Fund are working together to raise the funds needed to acquire the painting. Almost half of the £50m goal has been raised so far via trusts, foundations and individual donations, including a £2.5m grant from the Art Fund, the largest in its history.

Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “This acquisition is one of the most significant our nation could ever make, and will be remembered, and enjoyed, for generations. If we are successful in acquiring the work, Omai will be unveiled to the public at the National Portrait Gallery's reopening in June 2023, before being shared widely with audiences.

Funding available for curatorial fellowship

The Woven Foundation Curatorial Development Fund is offering up to £40,000 of funding over two years to a regional museum in England or a non-national London-based museum, to enable the placement of an independent curator to deliver a specific project for the host organisation. 

The grant is designated to encourage innovative thinking within the host organisation, driving impact in line with the aims defined within the open call. A spokesperson said: “We are delighted to announce the upcoming launch of the Woven Foundation Curatorial Development Fund. We are looking to fund a curatorial position for a dynamic organisation in England, that is ready to take on an independent curator to unlock new thinking and practice within their collections and wider communities.” 

Applications close on Monday 3 April at 1700.

Heritage Fund launches free digitisation resources

The National Lottery Heritage Fund is hosting a series of free webinars and panel discussions to help raise awareness of the need for greater digitisation across the UK’s heritage sector. The free events include the free Heritage Dot conference on 22 March, and a panel discussion focused on Digitisation Leadership on 31 March, which will explore how the UK heritage sector can get the best possible value from investment in digitisation.

The Heritage Fund is also publishing two new guides to help small, volunteer-led organisations in the heritage sector better prepare for digitisation projects while keeping their costs down. 

Spurn Lightship returns to Hull Marina

The historic Spurn Lightship, which operates as a floating museum, has returned to Hull Marina following a major 14-month restoration. The work was undertaken by local ship repair company, Dunston Ship Repairs. The ship has returned to a temporary berth until work on a permanent wet berth is complete. Displays will now be installed to tell the story of what life was like on board, and the ship is expected to reopen to visitors this summer.


The restoration is part of Hull Maritime, a transformational project led by Hull City Council and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It includes the full refurbishment of Hull Maritime Museum and Dock Office Chambers, the creation of a new attraction at North End Shipyard and the new home for the restored Arctic Corsair.

All change for Acceptance in Lieu panel

The chair of the Acceptance in Lieu panel, Edward Harley, has stepped down after a decade in the role. Following a process to find his successor, Arts Council England has appointed Helen Birchenough as chair and Michael Clarke to the new role of vice chair for a period of two years. 

Harley said: “Chairing the panel over the past 10 years has been an enormously fulfilling experience. I have worked with outstanding panel members and a brilliant secretariat. With their support £480m worth of works of art have been allocated to a wide range of museums and galleries – of which 90 had never been beneficiaries of the schemes before.

"It has been particularly exciting that the Cultural Gifts Scheme, which started in my first year, has gained such strong traction, with nearly a hundred cases having been completed. I know that I leave the panel in extraordinarily capable hands, and I wish Helen and Michael all possible success.” 

Grant Museum of Zoology closes for biodiversity-focused redisplay

The Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London, has temporarily closed for a £300,000 improvement programme. The museum will reopen with a new focus on “species under threat” this autumn. Updated displays will tell the story of biodiversity loss, engaging visitors in the human impact on the planet’s diversity of life and how UCL research is responding to the planetary crisis. External funding for the improvement work has been provided by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Foundation.

Established in 1827, the museum is home to around 68,000 zoological specimens. The changes will maintain the museum’s floor-to-ceiling displays and “atmospheric charm” but create new interpretation to highlight the diversity of natural life and explore how to rebalance humanity’s relationship with nature.

Tannis Davidson, head of zoology and science collections at UCL, said: “The new displays will ensure that the Grant Museum continues to be a vital resource to learn about and learn from the animal kingdom by providing better care for our irreplaceable collections and highlighting how they play a role in biodiversity and conservation research”.

Toolkit launched on advancing socio-economic inclusivity in the arts

The independent arts funder Jerwood Arts has launched a toolkit to help drive socio-economic inclusivity across the sector. The toolkit builds on the organisation’s Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme and foregrounds the experiences and voices of fellows and alumni of the scheme from working class backgrounds. The toolkit aims to offer actionable ideas for creating an empathetic and inclusive organisational culture, from committing the time to get things right and carving out space for dialogue and support, to avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.

Lilli Geissendorfer, director of Jerwood Arts, said: “Responding to the ambitions of the 2020-22 fellows encouraged us to work with them to design a resource that could articulate in real-life detail what ‘inclusivity’ does and doesn’t look like up close, day to day, throughout their journey in an organisation. It’s easy to say ‘there is no one-size-fits-all approach’, but what that means in practice is much harder to describe. Our hope is that people working in arts organisations across the UK will dip into the toolkit and use it as a starting point for wider reflection and discussion on what inclusivity could look like within their own context.”

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