WITH the arts budget severely squeezed in the government spending review, the announcement that The Art Fund will be dramatically expanding their funding programme provided some welcome news for Britain’s museums and public galleries.
The charity are committing to increase their funding for acquiring and displaying art by 50 per cent – from £4.5m a year at the moment to £7m by 2014.
The extra money will come from a new fund-raising campaign, cost savings at the Art Fund, and from sales of their new National Art Pass, which provides special access to museums and galleries all over the UK.
While the government-funded body Arts Council England is having their budget cut by £40m next year, these cuts will be shared between theatres, opera houses, museums, galleries, and many other cultural organisations. The key difference with the increased contributions from the Art Fund is that money will go directly towards acquisitions and contributions for keeping great works of art in the UK.
The Art Fund's director Stephen Deuchar told reporters at a news briefing: "You can't just stop collecting. It would be rather like a theatre saying it wasn't going to mount any new productions, or a library saying it wasn't going to buy any more books.
"Acquisitions are the lifeblood of museums," he added.
Over the last five years, the Art Fund have given over £24m to 248 museums. Figures recently obtained by ATG show that for 2009 the largest share of successful applications went to paintings at 26 per cent, with a further 22 per cent going to drawings, watercolours and prints.
For the same year, grants for purchases of contemporary art made up roughly 25 per cent of the total, partly down to the Art Fund International and Art Fund Collect schemes.
Direct auction purchases took only three per cent of the grants committed – although fund applications and campaigns often start after works are sold at auction and an attempt is made to export the item.
Contributions from the Art Fund have recently helped keep Pieter Brueghel the Younger's The Procession to Calvary at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, and last year they were a major benefactor in the campaign to acquire the 1500-piece Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard.
Meanwhile, an extra share of National Lottery funds has now been pledged to the arts, heritage and sport with the amount scheduled to rise by £50m to £300m per year by 2019.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has just completed a three-month consultation to help shape the future of their grants policy, but how much extra money will be provided for art acquisitions is unlikely to known until spring 2012.
By Alex Capon