The 12-month period beginning April 2020 gave rise to the full spectrum of emotions in the culture sector. Without the support of bodies such as Art Fund, museums’ despair at the pandemic’s early chaos may well have worsened markedly throughout months of closure.

317 organisations instead benefitted from £3.6 million in urgent support from the charity throughout the financial year, much of which – £2.25 million – was distributed via the Respond & Reimagine grants programme.

The Together for Museums campaign also leveraged Art Fund’s unique standing to raise more than £1 million between November and March to further prop up beleaguered cultural attractions.

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“One thing left in no doubt by this past year is the vital role that museums and galleries play in their communities,” states Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund.

“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.”

The charity supported many institutions with platforms designed to help with practical requirements during the pandemic. Art Tickets, for instance, assisted 120 museums with the use of a free ticket management system at a time when many were grappling with new requirements for online pre-booking.

Art Happens, Art Fund’s unique crowdfunding platform, also continued to connect museums with willing patrons keen to support innovative and creative arts projects.

Aberdeen Art Gallery, co-winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 © Marc Atkins / Art Fund 2020

£200,000 was distributed to five cultural hubs as Art Fund Museum of the Year increased its annual prize pot and shared the spoils equally among last year’s five joint winners – Aberdeen Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum, the Science Museum, South London Gallery and Towner Eastbourne.

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Many other staples of the Art Fund calendar also pushed on regardless of the challenges facing the sector. The Weston Loan Programme, for example, saw 15 grants awarded to regional museums in 2020, with 18 subsequent exhibitions scheduled across the UK in 2021.

Similarly, curators supported through the Headley Trust were able to continue their research, New Collecting Awards enabled five curators to develop their collections, Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants supported 43 curators in developing their expertise, and the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship Programme welcomed two new recruits in 2020.

Further, the charity’s perpetual push to support ambitious acquisitions in UK collections continued unabated despite Covid, with £2.8 million pledged in 2020/21 to help museums purchase more than 240 works to be enjoyed by the general public.

“Art Fund’s donors and members have proved as passionate as ever about supporting the UK’s museums and galleries,” notes Chris Smith, chair of Art Fund, who last year welcomed Madeleine Kennedy, Professor Susan Lambert and Dr Satish Padiyar to the charity’s board of trustees.

“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.”

The full Annual Report can be read here.

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