AHRC: Transforming research in UK’s world-class cultural and heritage sectors

A new report demonstrates the ‘transformative impact’ of Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding for many of the UK’s flagship museums, galleries, libraries, archives and heritage bodies, over the last decade.

AHRC writes:

The UK’s cultural and heritage organisations – including our galleries, museums and conservation bodies – are the envy of the world. For many of these organisations, research plays a vital role in supporting major exhibitions and telling the story of their collections to the public, and it has a positive impact on our economy and our quality of life. Ten years ago there was a change in the way that arts and humanities research is funded in the UK. By funding the Independent Research Organisations (IROs), the AHRC was able, for the first time, to support outstanding arts and humanities research outside of universities and other Higher Education Institutions. Over a decade of investment, the AHRC has now supported the IROs with almost £8.4m, leveraging close to £6m in additional funding.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of ARHC said: ‘The IROs are a wonderful showcase for arts and humanities research, in all its richness. Over the last ten years, the AHRC’s support for them has led to many different kinds of benefits: for the organisations themselves, for the university-based researchers who work with them, and crucially for the general public and the UK as a whole. Working with the IRO’s is important for us as their public engagement and major exhibitions allow visitors to experience first-hand how world class research adds so much to our understanding of art, film, history and cultural and natural heritage.’

Two new members of the IRO community are also being announced today – the British Film Institute and Historic England. Gaining this status means that they will be apply to apply from funding from the Research Councils and work with universities to support the next generation of academic talent as they work on their PhD’s.

Between them, the cultural and heritage organisations that make up the IROs attract millions of visitors every year (of the top 30 visitor attractions in the UK, 14 have IRO status). As public-facing organisations, they have a huge value in bringing excellent arts and humanities research to a wider audience.

The British Museum’s Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave, which is proving to be one of the shows of the summer, is a classic example of the impact of research funding. An AHRC grant has enabled the research and curatorial team to open up new chapters in Hokusai’s life through international collaboration and create a new website that will capture the prodigiously productive last three decades of his life.

Dr JD Hill, Research Manager at the British Museum, said:

‘Funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has allowed us to take this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition to the next level. There have been other exhibitions about Hokusai, but few that have explored his work, his times and the man himself like this. The AHRC grant has meant that we have been able to create the extra capacity to work on carefully choosing the right prints and paintings, in the right combinations and to provide a richer background to Hokusai’s story.’

The report also makes some recommendations about the future of the relationship between the AHRC and IROs – helping to further strengthen the role of research in these internationally important institutions. These include:

To read the IRO report and find out more about the research work of the cultural and heritage organisations see http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/research/iro/

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