Museums Cultural exchange United Kingdom

International programme slashed

Government stops funds, focus shifts away from Africa

The V&A is lending Kalighat paintings to India thanks to private money

The World Collections Programme, a project to link key UK museums with their counterparts in Asia and Africa, has had its government funding cut, meaning future projects will have to focus on wealthy places such as the Gulf or China. Private funding has partially filled the gap, allowing for an Indian tour of Kalighat paintings from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) collection. The next leg is due to open at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad next month.

Initiated by Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum (BM), the international programme includes the V&A, the Tate, the Natural History Museum, the British Library and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Over the past three years, relations have been developed with 29 countries.

There has been an emphasis on training. The Tate organised a London seminar for curators in Africa in October 2010, and another in the Middle East at the Sharjah Biennial in March 2009. The programme also funded British Library internships for the International Dunhuang Project. The BM organised training in London for staff from the national museums in Lagos, Nigeria, and Maputo, Mozambique.

From 2008, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport provided £1m a year for the programme. This was to create “long-term and sustainable partnerships” with Asia and Africa. The coalition government cut funding for the programme from last April in the 2010 spending review. A BM spokeswoman described it as “disappointing”.

Although the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt withdrew the money, he told the museums that he and the foreign secretary William Hague hoped that their international work would continue. “Government’s priorities will be the emerging powers of China, India, Brazil, the Gulf States, Russia and Japan, and we would welcome your engagement in those countries,” Hunt said. He also asked for the museums involved to work in “close partnership” with the government, the British Council and UK Trade & Investment.

So far it has proved difficult to replace the government funding, although the programme continues to exist on a limited budget. The V&A has chalked up one success: the Bonita Trust, set up by US online gambling entrepreneur Ruth Parasol, has donated £150,000 for projects in India over the next two years. This is helping to fund the travelling exhibition of Kalighat paintings, which is due to go to the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi in April. Assistance is also expected to go to museums in Kolkata and Gwalior.

An exhibition of 150 Chinese ceramics from the V&A and the BM in the National Museum in Beijing is also due to go ahead under the programme in June. The loan exhibition is also being supported by the British Council.

Highlights of the World Collection Programme

Africa: The programme helped fund the Tate’s mission to Bulawayo, which led to the discovery of Chris Ofili’s earliest dung paintings (The Art Newspaper, September 2011, p3). The BM has collaborated with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa to provide greater access to UK-based collections of Ethiopian artefacts, which were mostly acquired at the 1868 Battle of Magdala. There has also been a BM partnership with the National Museums of Kenya.

Middle East: The V&A’s exhibition, “World Ceramics”, went to Damascus and Istanbul in 2008-09. The Tate backed a photographic exhibition in the Queen’s Palace, Kabul, in March 2011.

India: The V&A’s travelling show, “Indian Life and Landscape”, went to Mumbai and other venues in 2009-10. The digitisation of British Library documents on India was funded. The BM’s “India: The Art of the Temple” exhibition was shown at the Shanghai Museum in 2010.

China: Shortly before his arrest, the programme supported a video about Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds, installed in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010-11.

More from The Art Newspaper


1 Feb 12
21:25 CET


Gentle delight.... Often, in your memory, the sound of a swallow appears near a white cloud recalling the youth. Francesco Sinibaldi

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this

  • Most read (week)
  • Most read (month)
  • Most comments