Art Fund publishes Annual Report for 2020/21 showing support for museums during the pandemic

Art Fund publishes its Annual Report for 2020/21, which shows how we responded to the pandemic by stepping up with crucial help for museums during the sector’s most difficult year in living memory.

Throughout the pandemic, we asked museums and galleries what they most needed, and we responded by helping hundreds of them to navigate these challenging times and stay connected with their communities.

Three hundred and seventeen museums benefited from the urgent funding we made available, a total of £3.6 million. Art Fund distributed much of that – £2.25 million – through the Respond & Reimagine grants programme, quick-turnaround critical funding designed to meet immediate need.

Art Fund also supported museums and galleries with our Art Tickets and Art Happens platforms. Art Tickets, a free ticket management system for museums, was used by 120 museums – a threefold increase on the year before. And Art Happens, our crowdfunding platform, continued to connect museums with generous supporters, helping them raise money for innovative arts projects.

Art Fund’s key role in supporting acquisitions continued the important work of growing and developing the UK’s collections. In 2020, we committed £2.8 million to the acquisitions programme. Over 240 works of art joined public collections with Art Fund support across all its collecting programmes. The Wolfson Foundation extended their support for a further three years, helping museums across the UK to keep investing in their collections at this challenging time.

Acknowledging the financial pressures caused by Covid, we increased the prize money for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 to £200,000 and announced we were dividing it equally between five outstanding museums who had shown exceptional innovation in serving their audiences: Aberdeen Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum, the Science Museum, South London Gallery and Towner Eastbourne

With the support of the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund continued to empower smaller museums to bring works from national or major collections to local audiences, with 15 grants awarded in 2020 and 18 exhibitions scheduled across the UK in 2021.

Thanks to the crucial support of Art Fund’s donors and members, we were able to raise £1 million for emergency funding to help museums during the pandemic through Together for Museums, a public crowdfunding campaign which ran from November to March.

We also strengthened our support for professional development, helping emerging curators at a time when many had been furloughed and were isolated from their peers. Curators supported through the Headley Trust continued their research into collection displays to increase audience access. New Collecting Awards enabled five curators to develop their collections in 2020 supported by individual donors and trusts including the Wolfson Foundation, the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts and the Coral Samuel Charitable Trust. Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants supported 43 curators to develop their expertise. And the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship Programme continued in 2020 with two new trainees benefiting from the opportunity to develop their skills.

Art Fund also helped many art lovers and supporters stay connected during lockdown. A digital pivot online in our events programme broadened access with panel discussions, talks and virtual tours. To keep everyone connected to their favourite places, even when they couldn’t visit, we launched a new podcast, Art & Stuff, which revealed hidden stories behind intriguing museum objects; and a new film series, Art Pass Recommends, which takes viewers on an in-depth tour of some of the UK’s most fascinating collections. Members continued to receive each issue of Art Quarterly magazine, with original features on art and museums.

Art Fund appointed three new trustees at the beginning of 2020: Madeleine Kennedy; Professor Susan Lambert; and Dr Satish Padiyar.

Art Fund’s programmes in 2020 were made possible thanks to the generosity and commitment of many trusts, foundations and individuals, including Art Fund members who support museums through the National Art Pass, Art Partners, and those who leave a gift to Art Fund in their will.

Chris Smith, Chair of Art Fund, said: 'Art Fund’s donors and members have proved as passionate as ever about supporting the UK’s museums and galleries. This steadfast commitment has allowed us to step up with crucial support from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we will continue to do so as this year begins the story of recovery.'

Jenny Waldman, Art Fund Director, said: 'One thing left in no doubt by this past year is the vital role that museums and galleries play in their communities. Their determination to bring joy, alleviate isolation and aid wellbeing during lockdowns has been extraordinary. We are privileged to have been able to celebrate them and to support so many imaginative initiatives throughout the year. Museums and galleries are not yet out of the woods and many face huge difficulties but together with our supporters we will ensure the sector thrives once again.'

View Art Fund's Annual Report 2020/21 here

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