Arts Council England – supporting museums – a Q&A with Kate Bellamy

Main Image: Beamish Open Air Museum, which has been successfully attracting people who would not normally visit a museum

Earlier this month the Arts Council began its next wave of National Portfolio Organisations funding, which will run until March 2022. This signals a number of changes to the portfolio including for the first time the inclusion of museums and libraries as well as arts organisations to the funding.

Here Advisor talks to Kate Bellamy who was appointed Arts Council’s director of museums in January, about her role and vision for the future of museums

What are your responsibilities and aims as the Arts Council’s director of museums?

I lead the Arts Council’s work with museums, including museum investment and museum development. My priorities include delivering the Mendoza Museums Review recommendations for the Arts Council, ensuring a closer and more strategic relationship with the Heritage Lottery Fund and national museums, and ensuring our next ten year strategy supports the work of museums.

National Portfolio funding for 2018-2022 begins this month, how will the 183 new members create more diversity and inclusion in the arts, and especially museums, across the country?

The Arts Council’s new portfolio includes more museums in different locations across the country, different types of collections and programming than ever before. For example, the Tank Museum in rural Dorset, the Lapworth Museum of geology in Birmingham and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

One of our priorities is to encourage wider and more diverse audiences to visit museums. The new portfolio includes a variety of museums who engage with audiences in inspiring ways.

For example, Beamish which attracts lots of people who wouldn’t traditionally visit museums, Sunderland Museum which brings in lots of local people and Derby Museums which are trying out new ways of engaging local communities.

Museums are fully integrated into Arts Council’s thinking and planning, opening up new opportunities for funding and support. This will become even more important as we start to develop our next ten year strategy.

Kate Bellamy, Arts Council director of museums

What are the challenges facing museums and how is the Arts Council addressing these through its funding streams, programmes and events?

Many museums remain incredibly resilient and do fantastic work to care for their collections and bring those alive for people. Some museums funded by Local Authorities face challenges and are having to think quickly about new operating models and diversifying income. The Museums Resilience Fund has helped many museums address this and I hope that the Arts Council’s new funding stream – Project Grants-  will continue to provide that sort of support.

There’s still much to be done and we’re keen that museums work more closely with digital technology; ensure that their leaders and the people working in museums are diverse, and have the right skills. We are looking now at how Development Funds might allow the Arts Council to support the sector in grappling with these challenges.

Another development in funding recently has been the closing of the Grants for the Arts scheme and the commencement of its replacement, the Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants: what does this change represent for the museum sector?

This is a very significant change. For the first time, museums can apply to the Arts Council to deliver projects that relate to their core museum purpose, without having to develop an arts element in order to qualify. For many museums, this will give them an opportunity to access Arts Council support for the first time and to start building a relationship with us.

What are the key messages that you want to relay to museums about the current funding?

I would encourage museums to look at the new opportunities for funding through National Lottery Project Grants and to discuss these with their local Arts Council Museums Relationship Manger and their Museum Development officers. We hope to see a wide range of museum projects coming through, including those that engage new audiences with different collections, projects that will support organisational resilience. We hope this new open fund will allow us to support museums in delivering the priorities identified for museums in the Mendoza Review.

As Head of the Museum Review for the DCMS’s independent review of museums – the Mendoza Review – how useful do you believe reports such as this are in shaping the direction and decision-making for bodies such as ACE?

Ha! A tricky one for me to answer since I’m biased. I hope that the wealth of information contained in the report is useful to policy makers and funders of museums. And that the recommendations, in particular, the priorities identified for museums, will help guide and shape our work. I know they will at Arts Council – I’ll make sure of it!