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The Art Fund: the nation's cultural carer

We should join forces with this charity whose thoughtful ventures include its announcement that it will increase the amount it gives to galleries by more than 50% by 2014

In a dismal financial age it is great to have good news about gallery funding. The Art Fund announced this morning that it will increase the amount it gives to galleries by more than 50%, to £7m a year, by 2014. This cultural charity already takes a leading role in buying art treasures for public galleries and buildings, such as Pieter Bruegel the Younger's painting The Procession to Calvary, which it recently helped to keep in Britain. It will now be playing an even more crucial role as a source of generosity when generosity is in short supply. But that is not all it is up to.

Just in case anyone thinks this philanthropic body is only about saving old master paintings for the nation, the most spectacular success of the Art Fund in recent years has been its financial support for the national tour of Artist Rooms, the outstanding D'Offay collection of contemporary art, which is so enriching public collections. Because of the Art Fund, great works by Warhol, Beuys and many more are being shown at museums the length and breadth of Britain.

The Art Fund, with such a diversity of good causes, surely has something for everyone, and its second announcement today, that it is relaunching its membership scheme in the shape of the new National Art Pass, is an excellent idea. This deserves to be an organisation with a mass membership that unites all tastes, ages and attitudes (except total philistinism, obviously).

You might say the fightback starts here. Enough contraction. Time to assert the value of art and join the Art Fund in its campaigns and projects to add to our visual riches. There is a lot of subtle, serious thought behind today's announcement. When I spoke to the Art Fund's director, Stephen Deuchar, about it last week, the policy he was most passionate about is the Art Fund's new programme to encourage "curatorial development" in regional museums in collaboration with London's National Gallery.

As museums purchase fewer works of art, he warned, not only do particular paintings go to private collections or abroad but the skills needed to judge, select and argue for purchases atrophy. The old skills of "connoisseurship" need saving, he believes, and the job of museum curator cannot just become about interpretation – it has to involve intricate knowledge.

I really like the sound of this project, which I hope will blossom, along with the other Art Fund ventures just announced. Works of art are complex and fascinating things. Art museums primarily exist to collect and preserve them. It does not matter how nice the cafe is, how many tours there are, or how cool the current exhibition might be if collections die on the vine. That obviously takes money, which the Art Fund is assisting with. But it also needs museums to care about their collections and to support research-based, knowledgable curators of, say, 18th-century drawings. That costs money too, and I fear Deuchar may be on to something very serious here – the danger of cost-cutting is not just the loss of particular works of art but that museums will cut back on the behind-the-scenes staff and research that constitute their intellectual treasure. Good on the Art Fund that it is fighting to save our galleries and museums, and the culture they embody. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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