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A Bristol landmark building and important regional institution has received a grant which takes it a major step closer to securing its future.

The RWA (Royal West of England Academy) has been awarded a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund towards a project which will not only save it from catastrophic closure but will also significantly increase the numbers of people visiting its exhibitions. 

Development funding* of £178,600 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to help the RWA progress plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant of £1.37m in June 2020 towards its £3.3m Light and Inspiration capital project.   

With only 1.5% of the gallery’s funding coming from the public purse each year and no unrestricted reserves, RWA’s ability to attract an increased number of visitors and deliver sustainable income is essential for it to continue as an art gallery. 

The project, which is planned for 2021, will make the Grade II* listed building more welcoming, attractive and accessible, ensuring that the RWA is financially sustainable for the future, increasing visitor numbers by a planned 40%. The forecourt area in front of the building will be transformed into a vibrant outdoor social space that can be used for artists’ interventions and family creative activities, as well as an alfresco seating area for the café. 
The team behind the project is also looking at expanding the shop and miniscule café – currently housed in what was the former ladies’ toilets – creating separate entrances so that the café can open outside of gallery hours, and improving the way in which visitors are welcomed into the building.  

A survey in 2015 identified the need for essential remedial work to the two vast roof lanterns (skylights) that give the galleries their outstanding quality of light.  However, the height and scale of these features has meant that just the cost of scaffolding alone has been unaffordable to date. The Light and Inspiration project will not only ensure the integrity of the roof, but also provide new thermally insulated roof lanterns.  Ventilation openings incorporated into the lanterns will ensure visitors can enjoy the works of art in more comfortable and cooler galleries in the summer, while the gallery can save on heating costs in the winter. 

Stabilising the gallery temperatures will also mean that the RWA can continue to be insured under the Government Indemnity Scheme to borrow major historic works of art from national and international galleries.  Joseph Wright of Derby’s Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View of the Islands in the Bay of Naples, currently on loan from Tate in the RWA’s Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art, 1692-2019 is an example of this. 

The antiquated and unreliable 1913 lift will also be replaced during the work, making the upstairs galleries accessible for people in wheelchairs without assistance for the first time. 

Alongside the capital works, innovative activities are being planned to engage and inspire people from some of Bristol’s most deprived wards and to expand on the RWA’s work with people struggling with mental health challenges and dementia. 

RWA Director, Alison Bevan, says “We’re so lucky to have such an amazing building, described as one of the most beautiful galleries in the country.  In our 175-year history, tens of thousands of people have exhibited their work within our walls, from some of the most famous artists of their day to emerging talents, and from children to centenarians. The Light and Inspiration project will enable more people to enjoy visiting, giving people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to be inspired and uplifted, and to benefit from getting creative.” 

The RWA has been self-supporting since it was founded as Bristol Academy of Art in 1844 and is Bristol’s first art gallery, with a role to promote the practise as well as the appreciation of art. 

£938,400 towards the total project cost has already been secured, including the first round grant of £178,600 by The National Lottery Heritage, together with funding awarded by the John James Bristol Foundation, Foyle Foundation, Linbury Trust, Nisbet Trust and Bristol Port.  Matchfunding of just under £1M needs to be pledged prior to the second round submission to The National Lottery Heritage Fund in June 2020 in order for the project to go ahead

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