Nesta plans to shed light on innovative exhibitions

The creation of ‘trailblazing’ exhibitions in the country’s museums, galleries and science centres will be supported by an up-and-coming bursary initiative from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

The Illuminate scheme has set aside £1m for the period from autumn 2004 to spring 2006 and will allocate awards to projects that take an imaginative and mould-breaking approach to learning through exhibition. Successful applicants will receive grants of between £2000 and £80 000 individually and up to £120 000 if they work in partnership.

‘We always look for inspirational, innovative ideas about ways that people can learn,’ explains Sarah Maher, programme development leader of learning at Nesta and lead on the Illuminate initiative.

Illuminate forms part of Nesta’s Strategic Plan for 2003-2006 and sits within the organisation’s learning programme. It was born of the discovery, through research, that many of the country’s learning-based exhibitions are tired and dull, says Maher. ‘We try to identify gaps for investment and looking at exhibitions in many of the country’s museums and galleries, we could see that they needed new life breathed into them.’

Risk-taking will play a pivotal role in the allocation of the Illuminate award. ‘Risk was the big thing that came out of discussions with the directors of these organisations. Many feel that they don’t take enough risks in how they interpret their collections,’ according to Maher.

Halifax’s Eureka! museum for children opened its SoundSpace music gallery (pictured above) in July this year, created by Dutch exhibition design consultancy Northern Light CoDesign. Nesta part-funded the gallery and cites it as an example of the innovative approach to learning that Illuminate will seek to develop.

SoundSpace is a permanent exhibition that uses music to help children understand science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Dutch educational multimedia group Kiss The Frog and UK sound artist Thor McIntyre-Burnie also collaborated on the gallery.

Eureka! exhibition manager Tudor Gwynn says: ‘We put our trust in the designers and artists to work together effectively, but monitored the process to ensure it met our educational needs. I think Nesta was impressed with our initial vision and the fact that we brought a range of disciplines together at a very early stage.’

Illuminate grants are available to all UK non-national museums and galleries, as well as science and discovery centres. The application process opens on 19 October and Maher expects the first awards to be allocated early next year. Applicants will give an initial presentation of conceptual ideas, which will then be formally assessed if they meet Nesta’s criteria.

For further information, visit Nesta’s website,

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