Q&A with Stephen Deuchar

Simon Stephens, 06.10.2014
Director of the Art Fund on a new acquisition scheme
Stephen Deuchar is the director of the Art Fund, which has just launched an acquisition scheme for curators. The first year of the New Collecting Awards will see £300,000 shared between the successful applicants.

The deadline to submit an expression of interest is 7 November, after which selected curators will be invited to make a formal applications.

What are the key aims of the New Collecting Awards?

With this new funding programme we hope to enable ambitious curators to pursue new avenues of collecting for their museums, and at the same time build critical professional skills.

Through New Collecting Awards we aim to offer 100% funding for focused and ambitious collections of fine and applied arts, while developing a new generation of curators. We particularly want to hear from curators who may never before have had the opportunity to feed into their organisation’s collecting strategy, or who have only been involved with one or two acquisitions in their careers.

The New Collecting Awards offer them an opportunity to participate in a strategic collecting scheme designed to support considered and ambitious acquisitions of the highest quality.

Is there a crisis in curatorial expertise in our museums and galleries?

The first thing to say is that during these economically challenging times for the museum sector the importance of curatorial expertise may be under threat in some instances, and must not be overlooked anywhere.

It is through excellent curators that public collections can grow and flourish, and it is this aspect that we are keen to address. We want to see museums and galleries develop and extend their holdings into exciting new areas or deepen their existing and brilliant holdings in imaginative ways.

Collections are the beating heart of museums and galleries, and with a dynamic and informed team behind them the benefits are felt directly by the public.

Why is strategic collecting so important?

Many people perceive the Art Fund to be a body that focuses on supporting museums and galleries in acquiring single works of art. However, in recent years we have increasingly developed and implemented very successful programmes entirely focused on strategic collecting.

Precious little funding goes to public collections outside of London towards collecting, particularly international contemporary works – which is one of the issues we addressed with Art Fund International, which awarded £4.1m across five museums partnerships to develop their collections.

It is very unusual for museums and galleries to be able to access the funds and resources needed to develop collections so significantly.

But strategic collecting allows collections to grow significantly and intelligently, avoiding becoming a static entity and not only raising the profile of the organisation to which they belong, but also opening up dialogues and the potential for forming other partnerships both nationally and internationally, particularly if it allows, say, a living artist to enter a UK public permanent collection for the first time.

Do you think audiences understand why it's important for museums to carry on collecting?

In terms of the museum-going audiences, I think on some level, yes, but probably not explicitly. However, a museum’s loyal followers would usually notice, or perhaps even have been involved in, an exciting new addition to its permanent display, or if the collection has developed in a new direction – so this could be indicative of how ongoing collecting is received by visitors.

I can only think that it’s a good thing for museum audiences and in fact anyone that engages with a museum collection, whether as a spectator or working behind the scenes, to feel that museums and galleries are dynamic, evolving and providing new challenges for visitors and their own teams, through their own collecting practice.