Three museums in search of mega-millions for extensions and refurbishments

Despite the recession, the British Museum, Tate and V&A attract major donations



Three national museums in London are trying to raise £435m in total to add extensions or refurbish their existing buildings. Although fundraising is difficult in the current financial climate, each has made progress and received substantial donations. The British Museum has been promised £25m by the Sainsbury family’s charitable trusts, while two anonymous donors have promised £15m to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and £10m to the Tate for its modernisation of Tate Britain. Meanwhile, the Tate has secured more than £150m to build an 11-storey extension to Tate Modern, leaving it £65m to raise.

The British Museum has now raised £118m towards its £135m extension, which means that it is nearly 90% of the way to its target. The museum’s World Conservation and Exhibition Centre will provide much-needed conservation and storage facilities, along with large purpose-built galleries for temporary shows. The new wing is in the north-west of the museum’s Bloomsbury site, filling an area that was either empty or occupied by buildings used for offices and other behind-the-scenes facilities.

Of the money raised, £42m comes from the British Museum’s financial reserves. A substantial proportion of this is from the sale of the former Holborn postal sorting office, near to the museum, which it acquired in 1991 for a study centre, a project that was later dropped.

The museum, however, needs permission to spend the reserves from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), under Treasury regulations (The Art Newspaper, December 2011, p16). This has been the subject of prolonged negotiations, but museum sources believe that the issue will be resolved.

The British Museum’s largest donor is the Sainsbury family through Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover’s Linbury Trust and the late Simon Sainsbury’s Monument Trust. Together the trusts have pledged £25m. DCMS is to give £22.5m in capital grants over four years and the Heritage Lottery Fund has recently awarded the project £10m. The remaining £18m raised has been pledged by private donors, including the Wolfson, Garfield Weston and A.G. Leventis foundations.

The extension, designed by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners, was delayed owing to planning problems (it was originally scheduled to open later this year). Work on the site is now under way. More than half the building will be underground, on three levels, and ultimately 4,000 lorry loads of material will be excavated. Installation of the steel superstructure should start in July, with “topping out” at the end of the year. The building is due to be completed by autumn 2013 and the centre’s first exhibition, on the Vikings, is scheduled for spring 2014. It is expected that the World Conservation and Exhibition Centre will eventually get a snappier name. Although no decision has been made, the exhibition galleries could be named after the Sainsbury family.

The underground oil tanks of the former Bankside power station, now Tate Modern, are being converted into spaces for live events and installations. While the oil tanks could be open by June, completion of the 11-storey extension above, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, has been delayed until 2016. As recently as 2010 the Tate had hoped that the whole building would be completed for the London Olympic Games this summer.

The main reason for the delay has been the increased difficulty in fundraising since the recession in 2008. The total cost is estimated at £215m, of which the Tate has now raised more than £150m (70%). This includes £50m in capital funding, committed by DCMS in 2007, before the cutback in public expenditure. The London Development Agency has given £7m. The Tate’s chairman, John Browne, describes the venture as the UK’s “single largest fundraising campaign from private sources ever undertaken in the cultural field”.

Meanwhile, Tate Britain has a more modest building project: a £45m refurbishment of galleries in the south-east quadrant, along with new entrance facilities. Caruso St John is the architect. So far the Tate has raised £35m (including an anonymous £10m donation), nearly 80% of the cost. In addition, the lottery fund is expected to award a £5m grant, of which £3m will be for the building.

Building work is well under way and although some galleries are closed, most of Tate Britain remains open. Completion is scheduled for spring next year. After this, the Tate plans a similar project to upgrade the south-west quadrant of the building.

The V&A plans to build an extension providing a major new entrance in Exhibition Road (on the site of the high-rise, Daniel Libeskind-designed Spiral, which was dropped in 2004). Its replacement, an Amanda Levete-designed scheme with spacious exhibition galleries, will be below a street-level courtyard.

The cost of the V&A’s extension is £40m (£5m more than the price given last year). An anonymous donor has pledged £15m and while no other firm donations have been made, they are under discussion. Building work has not yet begun but the project is due to be completed in 2016.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Three museums in search of mega-millions'