Art Fund Helps 900 Items Into Public Collections

Portrait of Mai (Omai) by Sir Joshua Reynolds in situ at the National Portrait Gallery © David Parry

Art Fund, the UK’s national charity for art, has announced that it helped to bring over 900 objects and works of art into public collections last year. This support is made possible by its 135,000 members who buy the National Art Pass and by the generosity of trusts, foundations and donors.  

Art Fund’s annual report for 2022/23 revealed the charity offered grants totalling £8.4 million across the year including £4.5 million to help museums acquire works of historical and cultural significance. This included a £2.5 million grant – the highest in Art Fund’s 120 year history – toward the joint acquisition of Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Mai (Omai) by the National Portrait Gallery and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The public will be able to see the exceptional painting on display for the first time in 18 years at the newly refurbished National Portrait Gallery from 22 June. 

The charity also significantly increased its total overall grants for museums, in response to the most challenging few years for museums and galleries since the charity was established 120 years ago.  

Nalini Malani installation view

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund said,  

“It has been heartening to hear from our 850+ museum and gallery partners that green shoots of optimism are emerging after a difficult few years. Visitor figures are edging upwards, and we have seen a discernible greater confidence in acquiring and commissioning art. As our brilliant museum colleagues navigate their recovery from the pandemic, with the added burden of the cost-of-living crisis, our support is needed as much as ever. We are delighted that Art Fund has been able to support museums and advocate for the further significant investment they need”.  

Among the exceptional works Art Fund helped museums to acquire in 2022 are: 

  • Joseph Wright of Derby’s Self-Portrait at the Age of about Forty (c1772-73) by Derby Museum and Art Gallery – one of only 10 self-portraits that exist by the artist which includes an extraordinary verso sketch  
  • The Druthaib’s Ball by Array Collective (2021) by Ulster Museum – an immersive recreation of an Irish pub addressing the urgent social and political issues of today from the first artists from Northern Ireland to win Tate’s prestigious Turner Prize 
  • Jananne Al-Ani’s Timelines (2022) by Towner Eastbourne – a panoramic video installation co-commissioned with Art Fund support through the Moving Image Fund, depicting a vast landscape based on a decorated brass tray from Iraq now at the V&A in London 
  • The Herefordshire Hoard (buried 878) by Hereford Museum and Art Gallery – treasure of huge national importance thought to have been buried as a result of incursions by the Vikings, including many outstanding items in gold  

To plan for a secure future, in 2022 Art Fund set out its vision for the next five years which centres around three principal activities: funding art – continuing to support both historic and contemporary art from different cultures and in different forms; engaging audiences – to ensure everyone feels empowered to visit museum; and championing museums – to advocate for these institutions and the work they do to serve their communities. The acquisitions made in the past year support the charity’s priority to fund a wider range of work to ensure the national collection reflects the diversity of our nations and communities and new developments in artistic practice.  

Telemaco Signorini, Edinburgh

Collaboration

Inspiring the next generation of visitors has been a particular focus for Art Fund, with the belief that early museum experiences can transform lives. Earlier this year, Art Fund launched the largest ever collaboration between the UK’s museums in partnership with the National Trust, English Heritage, WWF-UK and the RSPB. The Wild Escape brought together 532 museums with schools and families to engage young people with the critical issue of biodiversity loss, culminating in an epic-scale digital landscape unveiled on Earth Day, 22 April 2023. Children can add their creatures to the landscape until the end of the summer term at www.wildescape.org.uk.  

2022 was a pivotal year in researching and developing Art Fund’s Teacher Art Pass, which aims to establish a community of teachers interested in museums and in using museum visits and resources to inspire the next generation. 

In December 2022, Art Fund announced grants of £1.8 million through the Reimagine funding programme for 45 museums, galleries, historic houses, trusts and professional networks to deepen audience engagement. Demand for funding was extremely high, with a 33% applicant success rate, showing museums’ continued need for support during the cost-of living crisis. In 2023, Reimagine grants will focus on supporting the museum workforce.  

Towards the end of 2022, Art Fund published a report on curatorial diversity, looking at the impact of previous initiatives in the UK and what’s needed for future progress. The findings revealed that there is an urgent need to increase curatorial diversity in museums to ensure the UK’s collections reflect a diverse society.  

Art Fund’s Headley Fellowships continued to deepen curatorial expertise by supporting curators on ground-breaking projects, and Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants helped to fund research across the globe, with curators visiting countries including Armenia, Australia, Brazil and Pakistan last year. 

Fellowship

Also in 2022, the first National Gallery Contemporary Fellowship with Art Fund came to fruition. This award, for an artist of international renown to produce new work inspired by the National Gallery collection and that of a partner museum, saw video art pioneer Nalini Malani create My Reality is Different, an animated projection along 40 metres of wall, drawing on her research into the gallery’s collection as well as that of the Holburne Museum in Bath. 

The Freelands Art Fund Acquisition helps museums and public collections to acquire work by contemporary women artists. Through this programme in 2022, work by Turner Prize-winning artist Veronica Ryan and the experimental filmmaker Lis Rhodes joined collections at Leeds Art Gallery and the Hunterian in Glasgow, respectively. The successful museums for this year’s programme will be announced later this year. 

Art Fund Museum of the Year, the world’s largest museum prize, is an annual opportunity to celebrate the best of the UK’s museums and to showcase their creativity, ingenuity and resilience. In 2022 Art Fund encouraged applicants to demonstrate how they could inspire future generations of visitors, with the Horniman Museums and Gardens in London winning the prize.  

The 2023 edition celebrates 10 years of Art Fund Museum of the Year, and the shortlisted museums are The Burrell Collection (Glasgow); Leighton House (London); The MAC (Belfast); Natural History Museum (London); Scapa Flow Museum (Orkney). The winning museum will be announced at a ceremony at the British Museum in London on 12 July and will receive £120,000, specially increased for 2023 and beyond to mark 120 years of Art Fund supporting museums. 

Chris Smith, Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman, Art Fund said, 

“As we enter our 120th year, the aspiration that led to the founding of our charity in 1903, at a time when there wasn’t enough public funding for museums and galleries, resonates to this day. The museum landscape has certainly evolved dramatically over the past 12 decades and we are working hard to ensure that we are in the best possible position to support the sector long into the future. I would like to thank our 135,000 members, as well as the many donors, trusts and foundations who support us, for continuing that success.” 

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