Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: AHRC Exhibition Fund

Apply for funding to support collaborative exhibitions and public engagement activities.

The lead applicant must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for AHRC funding.

Projects should be collaborative with a combination of higher education institution (HEI) or independent research organisation (IRO) and the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) sector, as co-investigators, project or collaborating partners.

The full economic cost of your project be up to £250,000. AHRC will fund between 80% and 100% of the full economic cost depending on costs applied for.

Projects can be up to 36 months in duration.

Who can apply

Projects should be led by a researcher based at an organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation funding (for example, either a HEI or IRO).

It is strongly encouraged projects include at least 1 non-academic partner. Non-academic partners must be based at a GLAM-sector public facing organisation with experience of hosting exhibitions such as a museum, gallery, library, archive, or heritage or arts centre.

Non-HEI or IRO partners can be co-investigators, project partners or collaborating partners. A full description of these roles can be found in the AHRC funding guide.

University GLAM organisations, such as university museums libraries and archives, can provide principal investigators and co-investigators to applications as per standard AHRC rules. Additionally, they can participate as ‘project partners’ provided that they are not formally linked to an organisation at which the principal investigator, fellow or co-investigators are based. They cannot, however, be both project partners and principal investigators on the same application, although they may be involved in different capacities in multiple bids.

Projects can draw upon expertise from other organisations from the culture or heritage sector, or from community organisations or groups, where appropriate to the project. Such partners may be included either as subcontractors or project partners, as detailed in the AHRC funding guide.

Projects can have more than 1 co-investigator, although please bear in mind the opportunity limit of £250,000.

International co-investigators and other forms of international collaboration are welcomed for this funding opportunity, and should follow the rules as set out in the AHRC research funding guide. However, exhibitions must initially be staged in the UK, although they can tour internationally afterwards.

What we're looking for

The pilot opportunity will support the development of exhibitions co-created and co-designed by collaborative teams from across the HEI, IRO or GLAM sectors.

We invite proposals for exhibitions with public engagement programmes, to be developed and delivered between 2023 to 2026. The exhibition can be physical, digital or a hybrid. It can be hosted at 1 site or across multiple venues as part of a touring exhibition series.

While we welcome tested approaches, we also want to encourage innovative and creative approaches to delivering exhibitions with public engagement programmes that are grounded in arts and humanities research, and it is not our intent to be prescriptive in the opportunity.

Project teams should have at least 1 person based at an HEI or IRO (principal investigator), and we welcome the inclusion of public facing organisation such as GLAM organisations, arts or cultural centres. Proposals should also demonstrate appropriate consultation and engagement with GLAM or IRO learning and engagement staff, or external community organisations (as partners), who may provide support, guidance or delivery of public engagement components of the project, where additional resource is required.

Proposals should demonstrate a strong, equitable partnership, with genuine co-design and co-creation of the project. The nature of the partnership and the roles of each team member should be outlined within the case for support.

The opportunity is not designed to fund new research but support the development of exhibitions underpinned by existing research. However, we understand research is an important part of the process when developing an exhibition, therefore, some new research can be built into proposals if it is going to enhance the content of an exhibition. For example, this might include:

  • research around understudied parts of collections
  • research addressing thematic gaps which will help to provide a fuller picture to the exhibition narrative
  • research around visitor studies or audience engagement
  • opportunities for capacity building in research skills amongst staff or public participants
  • opportunities for public engagement in collections-based research

Your project may also lead to the scoping of new future research opportunities.

It is important that your project is collaborative, and your exhibition proposal allows for equitable working amongst all HEI, IRO, non-academic and community partners. We invite proposals that demonstrate clearly how:

  • the research questions and remit of the exhibition (particularly for new research) have been scoped out collaboratively between all HEI, IRO and non-academic parties
  • the project is relevant to all HEI, IRO and non-academic parties (for example, if working with an IRO or non-academic partner, we want to see how the research relates to their collections or long-term exhibition plans, and wider organisational goals)
  • the principle investigator and co-investigators are uniquely placed to deliver the project in terms of their academic and professional background, and the skills and expertise they will bring to the project
  • the IRO or non-academic partner is uniquely placed to collaborate and host the exhibition
  • the project adds value to all HEI, IRO and non-academic parties, and how each collaborating partner brings value to the research

While we welcome tested approaches, we also want to encourage innovative approaches to delivering exhibitions as well as public engagement. Exhibition proposals must include a plan for a programme of public engagement activity which engages public audiences in all stages of the project, from the exhibition’s research and development phase through to its delivery and run.

We are particularly keen to see activity that engages audiences who might not normally connect with the GLAM sector. In addition, activity that facilitates deep and sustained engagement with existing audiences from the local community, allowing the host organisation to enhance and develop these relationships. Some examples of public engagement activity include:

  • object handling sessions on or off-site, inviting people ‘behind-the-scenes’ or bringing the exhibition research and objects to where they live, work and play
  • knowledge exchange methods (for example, oral histories, interviews, crowd-sourcing, contributions to exhibition object IDs). Inviting people to share their lived experiences and knowledge of ideas and objects with curators and researchers, and to learn from the project team
  • creative workshops (for example art, music, writing) and creative responses (for example, performances, podcasts, art) to the exhibition and exhibition research. Inviting people to respond to what they have seen
  • talks and in conversations with curators and researchers
  • film screenings with question and answer sessions
  • performances and concerts that bring the exhibition ideas to life

In essence we are looking for a mixed model of dissemination and collaboration, sharing research and ideas, as well as enabling people to use their lived experiences to add to research understanding.

As well as including exhibition costs, other activities can be supported such as associated events, workshops or activities. This could involve working with community organisations, local voluntary or public sector organisations, and schools and colleges.


We are particularly keen to see proposals that identify a clearly defined audience group(s). Activity may engage new or diverse public audiences who might not normally connect with the GLAM sector or that facilitates deep and sustained engagement with existing audiences from the local community, allowing the host organisation to enhance and develop these relationships.

We encourage you to work with voluntary or community organisations, where needed, to facilitate engagement and relationship-building with new audiences. Public engagement activity must be relevant to the interests and needs of your public audience(s) and have potential to make a positive change (impact) in their lives. We understand reaching new or diverse audiences can be a complex and challenging process, while we would encourage this, it is not mandatory.

We do not intend to define diversity for the purposes of this opportunity, it will be up to applicants to outline why they consider a potential group as a new interaction and explain how they intend to reach that audience. The Arts Council England provide a useful definition of diversity and resource material for the GLAM sector. By new audience, this could be a new audience for the piece of research or an audience who is new to the museum.

Outcomes and impact

We are looking for proposals that demonstrate strong potential for positive outcomes and impact for the HEI, IRO, non-academic parties and public audiences. Some examples include:

  • capacity and skills-building across HEI, IRO and non-academic parties, with an explanation of how this will add value to future workplans or career development
  • development of research areas which could enhance collections knowledge, contribute to future collections or exhibition development, or lead to future research scoping. For example, the temporary exhibition could lead to the development of a permanent display or a reinterpretation of a permanent collection. If a permanent display is intended, the proposal should include plans for the long-term care of the display or collection, outlining who would be responsible for this
  • positive impacts on public audiences, including:
    • improved sense of wellbeing and empowerment
    • opportunities to share their knowledge and experiences and contribute to research
    • enhanced knowledge and understanding of a subject matter
    • access to spaces, resources or expertise, and development of new skills that can help enhance their lives or work

What funding can I apply for?

In this pilot opportunity, AHRC will fund 1 project. Following a review of the pilot, it is our hope that the Exhibition Fund will become an annual competition.

AHRC will contribute up to £250,000 in total, to cover any new research activity, exhibition or public engagement activity costs and staff time. As per standard rules on full economic costing, lead organisation will be expected to contribute 20% of the funding, with AHRC paying 80%. There are some exceptions which can be included at 100%, these include:

  • co-investigators based at a non-HEI or IRO organisations
  • other staff time such as technical expertise (under sub-contractors)
  • exhibition costs which could include, for example, transportation, object storage and packing, conservation work, insurance, site visits, graphic design, exhibition materials, cataloguing
  • costs associated with public engagement activities, for example:
    • expenses for participants where their involvement in a project is significant or continuous over a long period of time
    • carers or guardians if the project involves working with young people or individuals who may need support to participate
    • freelancer fees for the delivery of the projects
    • cost of producing outputs and essential activity material (equipment, props etc.)
    • venue hire (if off-site)
    • transport costs (if working off-site)

Applicants are welcome to secure additional funding from other sources, this should be clearly outlined in the application.

The cost for the exhibition can be estimates at the point of application as we understand the design will evolve and develop throughout. You should give indicative figures at the point of application, indicating where flexibility may be needed.

Applicants are welcome to provide match funding, or their own contributions but this is not mandatory. When costing a proposal, applicants should follow the principals of full economic costing, as outlined in the AHRC funding guide.

Proposals cannot include marketing costs, although the cost of licensing for use of images can be included.

Project evaluation

Projects will be required to submit a monitoring, evaluation and learning plan which will outline how you will evaluate and measure the success of the exhibition and public engagement activities, for example, what methods you will use to measure the benefits of the activities.

Annex 1 outlines AHRC’s ‘theory of change’ criteria used to evaluate and measure the impact of its funding. Applicants should take this into consideration when drafting their monitoring, evaluation and learning plan. The successful grant holder will be expected to be open to working with AHRC in developing their plans further.

How to apply

You must apply via Survey Monkey, ensuring you complete all sections.

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Applications must be submitted via Survey Monkey.

AHRC must receive your application by 10 January 2023 at 4pm.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.


Your application must also include the following attachments.

Case for support

The following headings should be used:

  • project and engagement plan:
    • outline the proposed project, size, scale, and timeline
    • details of the existing research, any new research and why it is needed, details of the exhibition and planned public engagement activity
  • collaboration: provide details of the project team and the roles within the team. Proposals should demonstrate a co-design and co-creation approach
  • audience and innovation:
    • provide details of who the audience will be, how the project will engage with different audiences
    • outline any innovative plans for delivery, and any other public engagement activities
  • impact:
    • outline anticipated outcomes and impact
  • monitoring, evaluation and learning plans:
    • set out a schedule for monitoring key milestones, as well as a plan to evaluate and measure the success of the exhibition and public engagement activities, for example, outline what methods you will use to collect visitor data, measure engagement.

It must be a maximum of 7 sides of A4.

Justification of resources

Balance between principle investigator time and exhibition costs, with a higher percentage of funding going to the public delivery aspects of the project. Exhibition costs can be estimates at this stage.

The justification of resources should be a maximum of 2 sides of A4, not including the table of resources.

Additional attachments

In addition, applicants must attach:

  • CVs (maximum 2 sides of A4) for principle investigator and co-investigators letters of support (maximum 1 side of A4 each) from any project partners or subcontractors (if applicable)
  • ethics and safeguarding plan (maximum 4 sides of A4), outlining plans to ensure health, safety and wellbeing of public audiences is effectively planned for and well-managed. These processes must align with parties’ regulations
  • data management plan

Further guidance on each of these attachments is set out in the AHRC funding guide.

How we will assess your application

Your application will be assessed by a specially convened panel of experts from academia, the GLAM sector, and those with public engagement expertise.

Each application will be assessed by 3 members of the expert panel, who will allocate a grade using AHRC’s standard grading criteria. The panel will discuss each application before agreeing on a final grade.

Unfortunately, due to the volume of applications, we are not able to provide individual feedback if you are unsuccessful at the application stage.

Before we assess an application, the AHRC will check it for:

  • eligibility
  • research subject

Applications which do not adhere to these rules will be disqualified and will not progress any further.

AHRC will then share the entirety of the content of the applications, excluding the applicant contact details, with the selection panel via a secure online portal.

Assessment criteria

Project scope and reach

This includes:

  • a clearly identified public audience, and engagement activity relevant and beneficial to them. The project identifies a defined public audience and proposes public engagement activity that responds to their needs and interests. It must have the potential to positively impact them. Audience group(s) must be specific to the project
  • any new research activity is justified and will add value to the exhibition and public engagement activities
  • projects are logically and realistically planned

Activities must take place between 2023 and 2026. They must:

  • represent good value for money
  • present a clear delivery plan, an evaluation plan, and outcomes that are achievable and measurable, within budget and time frame
  • demonstrate a rigorous ethics and safeguarding plan for managing the health, safety and wellbeing of public audiences

The project team and collaboration

This includes:

  • the project demonstrates suitable resource and structure to be able to deliver the exhibition and the range of activities
  • the research questions and remit of the exhibition (particularly for new research) have been scoped out collaboratively between all HEI, IRO and non-academic parties
  • the project demonstrates potential for excellent partnership working, that incorporates collaboration, co-design or co-production methods that are fair and mutually beneficial
  • the project engages its public audience and partners using collaborative methods (for example co-production or co-design, or both) to generate a 2-way conversation about the research and exhibition design process. These methods must be relevant and appropriate for engaging the audience group or partners
  • the exhibition ‘host’ is appropriate for the project and will reach the audiences outlined in the proposal
  • the research adds value to all HEI, IRO and non-academic parties, and how each collaborating partner brings value to the research

Evaluation plans

Projects must demonstrate potential for:

  • learnings to be shared with the public, researchers and partners
  • meaningful and positive long-term impact
  • demonstrate how the project will evaluate and measure the success of the exhibition and public engagement activities

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Karen Buchanan or David Selway, History, Heritage, Languages and Literature team, AHRC


Include AHRC Exhibition Fund in the subject line.

Additional info

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