pounds 137m dowry for museums renaissance

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The Independent Online
The National Lottery yesterday handed out a bonanza of pounds 137m to 23 major museums and galleries ranging from the Tate Gallery in London to a new National Museum of Football in Preston.

It left the institutions celebrating a moment as historic as the time in 1753 when a previous lottery funded the building of the British Museum.

The grants, which were being hailed as heralding a renaissance for museums, were carefully and strategically allocated by the Heritage Lottery Fund under Lord Rothschild, sensitive to past criticism that the lottery had favoured high art and the capital at the expense of popular culture and the regions.

Lord Rothschild insisted on acknowledging the widest possible definition of museum culture. With an almost postmodernist approach, he saw that the money flowed to good causes as diverse as displaying more of the history of British art, fathoming the origins of the decorations on canal longboats, and saving millions of feet of priceless film and television material from decomposition.

The Tate Gallery in London, receiving pounds 18.7m was able to confirm expansion of its Millbank site and pledge to bring 250 pictures out of storage and on to display - Gainsboroughs, Hogarths, Hockneys et al. It will also have an additional entrance with a grand staircase linking the old and new galleries.

Further along the cultural spectrum a pounds 5.7m grant was approved in principle for a National Museum of Football. It will be located at Preston North End's Deepdale stadium - the oldest ground in the Football League, founded in 1888.

The National Waterways Museum at Gloucester received a pounds 1.4m grant to help improve galleries, education, research and visitor service. Thirty rare items of "roses and castles" ware will go on display for the first time. A narrowboat, decorated with brightly coloured roses and fantasy castles is the classic image of the canals of England. But the origins of the boatmen's art remain uncertain, and the award will help fund research.

Three museums in Manchester will share pounds 35m with pounds 15m going towards a project to extend Manchester Art Gallery. The increased space will enable a dramatic increase from 5 to 50 per cent of the amount of the collection that can be shown. Manchester Museum received pounds 12m and the city's Museum of Science and Industry received pounds 8.8m towards its expansion.

Elsewhere, the Welsh Slate Museum in Llanberis was awarded pounds 1.6m, and the Museum of Scottish Country Life received pounds 8m. Museums in London which received support include the Wallace Collection (pounds 7.2m) and the National Portrait Gallery (pounds 11.9m).

Almost pounds 14m is being given to the British Film Institute to enable it to record and conserve a vast backlog of uncatalogued material. The National Film and Television Archive holds 300,000 titles dating back to 1895. But although the BFI currently preserves nearly 3 million feet of decomposing film each year, the acquisition of nitrate film, safety film and television has outstripped its cataloguing and inspection resources.

Jeremy Thomas, chairman of the BFI, said the lottery injection would go a long way to allay fears that "aspects of our precious film and television heritage might be lost forever".

Lord Rothschild, chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund hailed the awards as enabling "a much needed renaissance for museums of the United Kingdom." He went on: "Breathing life back into museum lungs will be a great achievement for the National Lottery. This country has a spectacular inheritance both in terms of museums and the collections inside them. By the end of the century we would like to have helped to sweep out the nation's attics and cellars and to enable the treasures of this country to be accessible not only to the people of the United Kingdom but also to the world through developments in Information Technology."

Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Campaign for Museums, said last night: "I am delighted. With the help of this pounds 137m and the pounds 45m of other funding that will be invested in these projects, many of our local authorities, universities and national institutions will be able to realise their vision of serving and educating the public as we move into the new century."

It is a far cry from 1753 when a national lottery funded the building of the British Museum. That lottery raised pounds 101,952, seven shillings and sixpence. In those less egalitarian times the museum was open only to "the learned and curious". It was a few more years before the privilege was extended to the public.