Art Fund announces museum funding fillip and national art pass

UK's biggest art charity increases its grant to galleries by more than 50% and launches a new free admissions scheme

The UK's biggest art charity, the Art Fund, intends to increase the amount it makes available for galleries to buy works of art by more than 50% by 2014 – warning that at a time of government spending cuts, museum collections risk being "fatally undermined".

The charity also launched a new National Art Pass, which will give members of the charity free entry to over 200 museums and half-price admittance to temporary shows. The pass has been dubbed "the aesthete's Oyster" by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum – a museum's equivalent of the card that regulars use on the London transport network.

Annually, the Art Fund will hand out £7m, rather than the £4.5m it grants currently. According to the Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar: "In the past six months, as I have been talking to museum directors ... about how we can help them, I've been struck by growing worries that as belts tighten, and national and local funding diminishes severely, that acquisitions of major works of art may not be possible and all past progress in creating world-class collections may be fatally undermined."

Museums and galleries, he said, could not continue as lively and vital institutions reflecting the society around them without renewing their collections. "We can't just stop collecting," he said. "It would be like a theatre not saying it wasn't going to mount any more new productions or a library saying they weren't going to buy any new books."

The Art Fund, formally the National Art Collections Fund, is the UK's largest art charity. Founded in 1903, it exists to help museums and galleries buy works of art that would otherwise be lost from public view. It is largely funded by the £35 annual fee paid by its 80,000 members and has mounted many successful fundraising campaigns to save artworks for the nation, including, last year, the fundraising effort to buy the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasures and Pieter Brueghel the Younger's The Procession to Calvary.

The uplift in available cash will partly come from a fundraising effort among the existing membership of the Art Fund, and partly from a recruitment drive motored by the introduction of the new National Art Pass.

For £35 per year, members will be able to use the National Art Pass to get free access to 208 museums and galleries nationwide. The card will also allow half-price entry to charging exhibitions at national museums, including the Joan Miró exhibition that opens at Tate Modern on 14 April and the current Heracles to Alexander the Great exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford.

Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, said that the difficulty museums and galleries had in renewing their collections was a long-term problem. "I am always struck when I visit Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham that until the 1960s regional museums were able to make acquisitions on a par with the national collections. Until the 1960s they were equal to Tate; but from then things began to slide when funding began to fall away."

He welcomed the Art Fund's uplift in funding, saying: "It will I am sure make a big difference. I hope it will renew the culture of collecting across the country." The National Art Pass, he said, was "simple, clear, I'm sure it's going to be very effective – and it's cheap."

Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, also welcomed the Art Fund's announcement, saying: "Some people wondered whether philanthropy would continue in tough times. This demonstrates that it can." Speaking about the importance of acquisitions, he said, "We have long-term plans to help people build endowments [in order to be able to buy works of art] but we recognise this won't happen overnight. This will make a really big difference in the next four years."

He said that the Art Fund's move showed that "philanthropy was not just about rich individuals; there is also a way in which we can harness a lot of small donations. And with the National Art Pass people will really feel that they are getting something back."

• this article was amended on 15 April 2011. The original misspelled Pieter Breughel the Younger as Breugel. This has been corrected.


Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Art Fund: curator, collector and the nation's cultural carer
Jonathan Jones: We should join forces with this charity whose thoughtful ventures include its announcement that it will increase the amount it gives to galleries by more than 50% by 2014

Jonathan Jones

13, Apr, 2011 @11:13 AM

Article image
Online art database Axis culls members over question of modernity
Two artists complain to Charities Commission after review of membership ejects them for not being contemporary enough

Martin Wainwright

20, Feb, 2012 @2:17 PM

Article image
Littlewoods heir's philanthropy to end after 50 years

Through his charitable foundation Peter Moores has given £215m to a wide range of projects, from arts to education

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

03, Dec, 2012 @6:55 PM

Article image
£100m funding black hole threatens major arts projects
Culture department accused of 'hopeless management' over budget shortfall that could derail ambitious building projects

Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

22, Jul, 2009 @7:54 PM

Are the Government's funding pledges to the Tate and British Museum safe?

Charlotte Higgins: Noises coming from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport suggest that Government pledges for capital funds may not be guaranteed

Charlotte Higgins

17, Jul, 2009 @11:38 AM

Article image
British Museum announces major Christianity and Islam exhibitions
Plans announced for late 2011 and early 2012 also include a one-off show on the Afghan capital, Kabul

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

01, Jul, 2010 @4:38 PM

Article image
Troubled arts centre in West Bromwich finally opens to The Public

After waiting years to see results of massive investment, local people seem impressed by exhibits

David Batty

30, Aug, 2009 @7:16 PM

Article image
Urbis sent off: Manchester cultural hub to become football museum

Preston sport archive to be set up in popular exhibition centre that drew 250,000 visitors a year

Mark Brown

24, Jan, 2010 @3:27 PM

Article image
Arts funding cut 30% in spending review
Spending review sees Arts Council England shorn of almost a third of its budget, but museums expected to maintain free entry policy

Charlotte Higgins

20, Oct, 2010 @1:26 PM

Article image
The Public arts centre is dead. Long live the museum
Jonathan Jones: Funding for 'sexy' digital arts venues is vulnerable, so it would be far better for local governments to invest in established but languishing museums

Jonathan Jones

18, Nov, 2013 @1:09 PM