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National Funding Scheme: Art galleries encourage philanthropy at the click of an app


Museums, galleries and theatres across Britain hope to play on “emotionally charged” culture lovers and persuade them to support exhibits and performances with a touch of a button on their mobile phone.  

The National Funding Scheme, where visitors can donate money to their favourite cultural institutions using their mobile phones while on site, went live today at 11 organisations across the country.

Griff Rhys-Jones, who backed the new scheme, said today: “There is a moment when it is optimal for people to give but without the means and the direct intention to give at that moment, we actually put it to the back of our mind and forget about it.”

He continued: “The idea that you are standing in front of something and can just step forward and donate is really important.”

Major backers of this scheme, including the head of the National Portrait Gallery, said it would change the perception that arts organisations are “reluctant to ask.”

In the participating venues will be a panel next to an exhibit, or in the auditorium explaining the cause highlighted. Each case has a unique code which can be texted in from any mobile phone, or scanned in using android or apple smartphones.

National Portrait Gallery director Sandy Nairne said: “While there are over 25 million visitors a year to national museums, people in the arts are reluctant to ask for money. The donor will be more inclined to give if we improve the way which we do things, to make it easy. The question is how can philanthropy take new forms?”

This appears to respond to comments made by culture secretary Maria Miller’s claim last year that arts organisations needed to “get better at asking, not just receiving."

The launch also has come in the wake of serious funding cuts to arts projects countrywide. Local councils are slashing culture budgets as a knock-on effect from central government austerity measures to safeguard the economy.

Robert Dufton, interim chair of the National Funding Scheme, said: “Many arts institutions are struggling. They are not recession proof - our research has showed that 36 per cent don’t have enough funding to meet their main objectives.”

It has been developed off the back of research which revealed that 92 per cent of Britain’s populations have a mobile phone of which 32 million have access to the internet. Founders and patrons of the scheme aim to target donors “at their most generous,” according to a backer.

Eleven organisations have signed up for an initial six-month trial run. Five of these are based in London, and include the Victoria and Albert Museum, who want to restore the nineteenth century Cast Courts, and the Science Museum, who will use donations to update the Launchpad, their most popular gallery.   

However, four regional establishments are also taking part. One of those is the Baltic in Gateshead, which faces a struggle to attract steady flows of money in an area of the country where council arts budgets have been particularly hard-hit.

Another participant in the scheme, the Octagon theatre in Bolton, could see touring companies not return to perform if the council implements further cuts. Roddy Gauld, its chief executive, welcomed the new system.

“In a town like Bolton, you don’t have the same access to large donors like you have in bigger cities, so the opportunity for people to donate a small amount and so do often is a really important part of our fundraising strategy,” he said.