Director's Blog

Letter from the Director: In search of ingenuity

  • 5 March 2014
  • By Dr Stephen Deuchar
  • Director

In his Art Quarterly column, Art Fund Director Stephen Deuchar sees British creativity shining on many fronts, and shares his thoughts on Save Van Dyck, Museum of the Year and Edible Masterpieces.

Edible Masterpieces: Our new fundraising initiative Photograph by Maja Smend, food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun

Edible Masterpieces: Our new fundraising initiative


Photograph by Maja Smend, food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has now announced the final date this summer on which Anthony van Dyck’s beautiful self-portrait will be sent overseas to its new owner, unless matching funds can be found in time by a UK institution. As the Art Fund’s campaign to help the National Portrait Gallery acquire the work reaches its final phase, our confidence is high. On top of the £1.2m initially tabled together by the gallery and ourselves, well over £2m has already come in from thousands of Art Fund members, supporters and the wider public.

There have been some extraordinary acts of individual generosity – far too many to mention – and I have been heartened by the widespread recognition that this 17th-century canvas is not only of major art-historical significance but has, as a picture, a palpable and charismatic resonance too. In fact in the flesh, as it were, it feels disconcertingly powerful as its sitter gazes out confidently at his 21st-century public. It is surely unthinkable that, as a nation, we could let such a true British masterpiece slip away into a private collection abroad. Indeed, I do believe we can make this most important save, for despite the months of hard campaigning there are still some significant funding applications waiting in the pipeline, including to the Heritage Lottery Fund in April and to other trusts and foundations.

In the light of the overwhelming evidence of popular determination that this picture should be secured – there has been a record number of individual cash contributions from all quarters – these funders would very evidently be doing a great service to the public of today, as well as tomorrow, if they were able together to bridge the remaining gap. This is our last chance.

Museum of the Year

Applications for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2014 have closed, and we have received a heartening variety and quantity of persuasive individual arguments in favour of a range of institutions across the country. An important innovation in the process this year is the requirement that applicants should send us a short film, or PowerPoint presentation, setting out their case to become Museum of the Year. An initial sift of the applications received has revealed one thing right away – that UK museums harbour some highly talented film-makers! The level of creativity and ingenuity is remarkable, and as chairman of the 2014 competition I am greatly looking forward to sitting down with my fellow judges to scrutinise and consider them one by one. From that process we will aim to produce a shortlist of half a dozen museums, which will be announced on 23 April.

This year’s eminent judging panel has a strong international flavour: Wim Pijbes, Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, which recently re-opened to loud acclaim after the major programme rebuild and re-present its highly important history and fine art collections (see Q interview on page 96); Anna Somers Cocks, Founding Editor and CEO of The Art Newspaper; Sally Bacon, Director of the Clore Duffield Foundation, admired around the world for its support and promotion of cultural learning programmes in UK museums; and Michael Craig-Martin, Art Fund trustee and celebrated artist. The panel will visit all the shortlisted museums, and the winner will be announced in a ceremony at the National Gallery on 9 July.

Fundraising projects

As Britain’s national fundraising charity for art and museums, the Art Fund is fortunate to enjoy the regular support of a range of sponsors, trusts, foundations and patrons, but some of our most determined and successful fundraisers come from the ranks of our ordinary members (108,000 at the last count) across the country. Many of these join local or regional fundraising groups, which organise and sell tickets for art events of various kinds – visits to private collections, for example, or talks and lectures – thereby vitally feeding our national grant-giving programme.

Last year this volunteer network raised over £300,000. New and successful ideas abound: a pop-up shop in Edinburgh in 2012, for example, produced almost £20,000 profit in single day, so will be repeated later this year, and now a new initiative called Edible Masterpieces in underway, bringing a contemporary flavour to that most traditional of English fundraising staples: the cake sale. Creative cooks are being challenged to craft and bake their own versions of celebrated works of art, and the early results are, I’m happy to report, magnificent. A recent trial run in our own office saw cheerfully cavalierish re-interpretations of works by Rachel Whiteread, Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst and others, so with the blessing of those artists
we’ve now produced an information pack containing all details you need to get started yourself.

Visit to find out more. The end result will be more money for museums, and more works of art on the walls, which is of course the whole point of the Art Fund.

This column appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Art Quarterly. If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, please buy a National Art Pass.

Tags: what-we-doDirector's blogsave-van-dyckedible-masterpieces