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Transforming research in the UK's world-class cultural and heritage sectors

Date: 28/06/2017

A new report (PDF, 4.9MB) published today 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.

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 the Arts and Humanities Research Council, 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 please visit http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/research/iro/


For further press information, a copy of the report and images please contact Mike Collins, Head of Communications, at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, on 07590 463751, or at M.Collins@ahrc.ac.uk.

Notes for Editors

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. You can find out more information via www.ahrc.ac.uk or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.

As of June 2017, the Independent Research Organisations include: British Film Institute (joined in 2017); British Institute of International and Comparative Law; British Library; British Museum; Historic England (joined in 2017); Historic Environment Scotland; Historic Royal Palaces; Imperial War Museums; Museum of London Archaeology; National Archives; National Gallery; National Maritime Museum; National Museum Wales; National Museums Liverpool; National Museums of Scotland; National Portrait Gallery; Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh; Science Museum Group; Tate, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

  • Nurturing the next generation of researchers, working with and within the IROs, AHRC funding will help to ensure that they remain the envy of the world. This will create a pool of highly trained and motivated early career researchers across academic disciplines.
  • Building and developing the research infrastructure nationally and internationally. It will help research to flourish within UK museums, galleries and cultural organisations, positioning them as world leaders in many disciplines. Over the next decade the AHRC anticipates exciting new partnerships and innovative collaborations through funding opportunities such as the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council and IROs will work together to realise the AHRC’s ambitions for the creative economy, design and cultural heritage. The IROs are especially well placed to work together and to take a lead in these areas, developing knowledge and research capacity.
  • Transforming the visitor experience via using new digital technology. In the next decade the IROs and the AHRC will work collaboratively on large-scale digital projects that maximise the potential of technology to enhance these visitor experiences, showcasing the UK as a world-leader in digital futures.
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