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Museum curators receive £200,000 to boost research through Headley Fellowships with Art Fund

Seven curators named as first recipients of programme which provides time and resources to complete in-depth research into museum collections

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The Headley Fellowships with Art Fund is a new funding programme to give curators the opportunity to further develop specialist knowledge relating to the collections in their care. It enables curators to take time away from their day-to-day responsibilities to embark on a period of in-depth research into their museum’s collection, with funding provided to backfill their post either full-time for six months or part-time for a year.

The scheme responds to Art Fund’s own research, published in a 2017 report, ‘The 21st-century curator’, which found that almost three-quarters of museum curators (72%) spent 15% or less of their time on collections research.

It also comes at a time when public spending on museums and galleries in England has declined in real terms by 13% over the last decade – museums reliant on local authority funding have been hit the hardest, with cuts averaging 30% over the last 5 years. According to the Museum Association’s 2018 study, 34% of local authority museums reduced the number of full-time staff in the year preceding, and further research by Art Fund confirms a decline in the number of curators and specialist roles nationally over the last 15 years.

Launched in July 2018 by The Headley Trust and Art Fund, the Headley Fellowships with Art Fund will provide £600,000 over the next three years to UK curators to realise ideas for engaging audiences as well as to broker new relationships and share knowledge with museums and peers across the country.

The first fellows will embark on their projects throughout 2019 with outcomes expected starting in October. Anticipated outcomes from the projects include exhibitions, re-display of objects, books and/or learning programmes.

The seven curators selected as the first recipients and their projects are as follows:

  • Joanne Anderson, Assistant Keeper of Archaeology, Great North Museum:Hancock – researching the museum’s collection of Native North American art(Project dates: April – October 2019)
  • Subhadra Das, Curator, UCL Culture – decolonising university science collections(Project dates: April – October 2019)
  • Dan Hicks, Curator of Archaeology, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford – researching theuntold colonial histories in the Pitt Rivers collection (Project dates: April 2019 –March 2020)
  • Karen Logan, Curator of History, Ulster Museum, Belfast – curating The Troublesand community history in Northern Ireland (Project dates: April 2019 – March2020)
  • Margaret Maitland, Senior Curator, Ancient Mediterranean, National MuseumsScotland – researching and celebrating Scottish archaeologist Alexander HenryRhind and his contributions to Egyptology (Project dates: June – December 2019)
  • Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections, Manchester Museum – creating a newgallery of Chinese culture (Project dates: February – November 2019)
  • Adam Smith, Curator of Natural Sciences, Nottingham City Council – researchingand displaying the museum’s nationally significant herbarium collection (Project dates: April – November 2020)

Rob Bell, Director of The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, said: ‘It is vitally important that curators remain at the vanguard of our museums both in their understanding of museum collections and how they share that knowledge with peers and audiences. We are pleased to support these seven curators through the Headley Fellowships with ArtFund, giving them the time and support to explore, engage and further understand the brilliant collections that their museums hold.’

Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund, said, ‘The roles and responsibilities of the curator today are broadening all the time – in many museums there are greater public expectations than ever before but fewer staff available to meet them. Time to develop and enhance specialist curatorial skills and knowledge can by consequence be very constrained, and as we look to the future we must be mindful of what may be lost to museums in this process. We know that most curators meanwhile brim with ideas around their collections and would dearly love more opportunity to deepen and extend their knowledge about the art and objects in their care; so we are truly delighted to be working with The Headley Trust to make these ambitions a reality.’