Funding, Audiences

Art Fund partners with Nesta on ambitious project engaging early years audiences with museums

The Wild Escape, activities at South London Gallery for Earth Day 2023

We are delighted to be partnering with Nesta, the UK’s innovation agency for social good, on an ambitious programme to explore early years innovation in museums and help encourage a wider range of families to visit museums.

Today we have opened applications to recruit eight exceptional lead museums to work with us on our new two-year research and development programme with Nesta, to design and test a new early years intervention for use in museums, by using creativity to harness the unique power of their collections, spaces and practitioners.

This programme will explore and evaluate how an evidence-led playful intervention in museums can support families by building caregiver confidence and skills, enhancing interactions and relationships, and offering greater opportunities for more families to engage with the arts.

The successful eight lead museums will help us to develop and deliver this new programme, with each receiving a grant of up to £65,000 to cover the costs of participating. The selected museums will be instrumental in the design and testing of a new intervention in early years programming for the museum sector, will build new skills and partnerships, and reach wider audiences in their communities.

Ultimately, we hope this work will enable museums to reimagine their role in supporting and inspiring families, building a broader demographic of museum visitors, and helping the sector to demonstrate the social value and impact of its work.

Our preliminary research for this project

Last summer we partnered with three museums – the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Newcastle; and the Whitworth, Manchester – to explore how playful museum sessions could support families with children under five by enhancing caregiver-child interactions, growing parent/caregiver skills and confidence, and engaging families who experience barriers in accessing arts and culture.

A series of facilitated activities was delivered to over 60 families with children under five across the three museums. Each museum worked with local community partners and charities, including child and family centres, local school nurseries, and a charity supporting sanctuary-seeking families.

The proof of concept was encouraging and suggested that the museum context, staff and collections had the potential to play an important role in supporting developmental outcomes in children aged under five.

Building on the evidence from the facilitated activities, we will apply our learnings to this research and development programme which will run from spring 2024 through to spring 2026.

Working with Art Fund and Nesta has allowed us to test out a range of ways of working with families and other stakeholders using a design thinking approach. It was really refreshing to be encouraged to pivot our working methods and apply iterative change as we adapted to the needs and interests of children and their families.

Kate Holden, Learning Officer, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

A design thinking approach

Museums will be part of an ambitious research and development programme. They will be introduced to key design thinking principles (such as empathy, ideation and prototyping) and will be asked to collectively apply their creative expertise to an evidence-informed intervention framework – thinking about the unique power of museum collections, spaces and practitioners.

Together, Art Fund and Nesta will support the museums throughout the process: hosting design workshops, and providing marketing and evaluation materials to capture learnings throughout the programme.

Apply to take part in this exciting new research and development programme today

We welcome applications from UK museums, galleries, visual arts organisations and historic places who can demonstrate best practice in working with early years audiences, a commitment to this ambitious innovation process, and a desire to support priority families to access museums.

Please read the programme page for full eligibility criteria and further details. Applications close 15 May 2024.

Are your sure you want to leave checkout?