South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund launches long-term grants

The Museums Association (MA) has launched a new phase of the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. From 2020 the fund will split into two tiers, awarding more than £3.75m over the next three years. The fund supports innovative projects that bring collections closer to people. The Collections Fund, run by the MA, has been awarding grants to museums to bring collections closer to people since 2011.




The purpose of the Collections Fund will remain the same: to fund a range of projects that demonstrate the significance, distinctiveness and power of collections to people. However, the next phase will reflect changes in the museum sector in recent years and the findings of the MA’s Empowering Collections report. It will support core collections work in museums, with grants of up to £250,000 available for around 12 five-year projects that contribute to the strategic direction of the recipient organisation and leave a long-term legacy.

Smaller grants will be available for time-limited projects spanning two to three years that are ambitious, innovative or test new ways of working.

The fund has awarded £8.5m to 108 projects since it launched in 2011. In the South West, projects have included:

  • Cornwall Museum Partnership: for ‘Citizen Curators’ to work with Accredited museum partners to deliver a work-based training programme for volunteers from the local community in modern curatorial practice and bringing together object to form a Cornish National Collection
  • Royal Albert Memorial Museum: to pilot a digital ‘Collections Prospectus’ to link priorities for collections research with the research agendas of academic and research institutions
  • Bridport Museums Trust: for “The Right Stuff - innovative community collections review and rationalisation at Bridport Museum”. A project to formulate, deliver and share a collections review and disposal programme in partnership with their local communities
  • Royal Institution of Cornwall: to develop the access, use and care of the museum’s 60,000 item photographic collection which demonstrate some of the earliest photographic techniques, particularly those relating to underground photography in 19th century mines
  • Salisbury Museum: for a project working with young people and the costume collection, rediscovering items hidden in storage and creating links between generations
  • Bristol Museums: for conservation and digitisation of the Adela Breton collection of watercolours and tracings of ancient Mexican art.
  • Glenside Hospital Museum: for ‘Captured on paper: drawings of life in a mental hospital’, to research and exhibit the works of Denis Reed (1917-1979), artist and patient, and use them to raise the profile of mental health museums, in partnership with The Mental Health Museum in Wakefield and Bethlem Museum of the Mind.
  • Tate St Ives: to restore and develop a long-term strategy for the St Ives working studios of British modernist sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, and to share the results of the research across the sector.



The new phase of the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund will open for applications in later this year.

Sally Colvin, the MA's programmes manager, said: "It was nice so many people came to hear about the new version of the fund and to chat to people about how their work can fit the two tiers that we have in mind.

"We are delighted to be able to support more long-term, strategic collections work. We look forward to seeing what the next round of proposals will bring."