Our Story

The history of the United Kingdom Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation tells the story of a significantly successful venture. Since its establishment by the Board of Trustees in 1956, the Branch has made interventions in the arts and culture, in social welfare and in education that have had profound and long-lasting effects in Britain and beyond.

  1. 1956

    The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is officially opened following the passing of the founder the previous year. While the headquarters of the foundation is in Portugal, a small UK branch is also created, tasked with bringing about long term improvements in well-being, particularly for the most vulnerable.

  2. 1957

    The UK branch of the Foundation announces a £60,000 grant to the School of Oriental Studies at Durham University to help build the first wing of a Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, to be known as the ‘Gulbenkian Museum’.

  3. 1957

    A grant of £75,000 is committed to a ‘Gulbenkian Wing’ for the Royal College of Art: an assembly hall, lecture room and exhibition space as part of the rebuilding of the College on its Kensington Gore site.

  4. 1958

    A small committee is formed to research the needs of the arts in post-war Britain and to suggest ways in which the Foundation could help on this front. The chairman is Lord Bridges, Cabinet Secretary during World War Two and recently retired Head of the Home Civil Service.

  5. 1959

    The Help for the Arts report is published, better known as the Bridges Report after its chairman. This report proved not only to be the first of a series of influential reports on cultural policy but it also set a pattern. From then on the Foundation would often recruit a team of experts to investigate issues, draw up recommendations and publish reports that would have a far reaching influence on policy and practice.

  6. 1962

    Community Service Volunteers (CSV), now known as Volunteering Matters is launched, partly funded with a grant from the Foundation.

  7. 1964

    In a landmark collaboration with the Tate Gallery, the Foundation sponsors the first international survey of post-war art in 1964, and funds the construction of new galleries that open a few years later.

  8. 1965

    In the same way the Bridges Report set out a general policy for funding the arts, music education policy goes under the microscope in the Foundation’s publication Making Musicians, an investigation into the professional training of musicians. This is chaired by Sir Gilmour Jenkins, a former Permanent Secretary, and Vice President of the Royal Academy of Music.

  9. 1966

    The homeless charity Shelter is founded, supported by a three year grant from the Foundation.

  10. 1968

    The Gulbenkian-funded Community Work and Social Change, known as the Younghusband report, is published. It has a profound effect, shaping an environment where social work and community work is taken seriously. Within the Foundation, it crystallises its commitment to helping communities, especially the most vulnerable, to support themselves.

  11. 1973

    A report titled Current Issues in Community Work is published by the Foundation. Its recommendations are discussed in the House of Lords.

  12. 1976

    The UK Branch sponsors two important reports. One, by Naseem Khan, The Arts Britain Ignores considers the cultural issues linked to the racial tensions Britain was experiencing.  The other, Support for the Arts in England and Wales, published by the Foundation and known by the name as the Redcliffe-Maud Report, looks into how far Britain’s infrastructure had developed since the Bridges Report in 1959.

  13. 1981

    Mikhael Essayan, grandson of founder Calouste Gulbenkian, becomes the UK branch’s trustee.

  14. 1982

    A grant of £32,000 is given to set up the Centre for Employment Initiatives as a research and information facility tasked with promoting community enterprise. This is in line with the Lady Seear report Community Business Works.

  15. 1982

    The seminal report The Arts in Schools by Ken Robinson is published, which becomes a key document for those advocating to keep imagination and creativity in education. 

  16. 1988

    A highly influential report initiated by the UK Branch and written by John Myerscough is published.  The Economic Importance of the Arts in Britain talks about the need for regeneration following the industrial restructuring of the 1980s.

  17. 1990

    A Foundation report, Moving Culture, helps to increase public understanding of the creativity contained in what was usually dismissed as consumerist youth culture. It triggers a successful campaign to restore a nationwide right to public funding for dance and drama students.

  18. 1991

    The Foundation publishes a report which calls for an Ombudsman for Children, a move supported by many charities. This position was created a decade later.

  19. 1993

    At the Heart of the Community Economy is published, which sets up the principle of social enterprise. 

  20. 1995

    A new strand of work is developed, which encourages artists to engage with the new technical and cultural possibilities offered by science.

  21. 1997

    The Foundation cofunds the think-tank Comedia’s examination of the social benefits from cultural activity, as opposed to the economic benefits that were addressed in the 1988 report. The report is titled Use or Ornament? The social impact of participation in the arts.

  22. 2000

    The Foundation publishes Strange and Charmed: Science and the contemporary visual arts.  This book is edited by Arts Director Sian Ede and is one of the first books to explore the relationship between science and contemporary art.

  23. 2001

    The Foundation’s support for children’s rights culminates in its publication of the UK Review of Effective Government Structures for Children.  Immediately prior to the publication the government announces the creation of a Children and Young People’s Unit.

  24. 2001

    The first of eight Atlantic Waves festivals is staged in London. These are the biggest Portuguese music festivals outside of Portugal.

  25. 2003

    The Gulbenkian prize for Museums and Galleries is established. This is an award of£100,000 given to the entrant which best demonstrates a track record of imagination, innovation and excellence. This goes on to become a very significant and well promoted prize coveted by museums and galleries.

  26. 2005

    After nearly 25 years as the UK branch trustee, Mikhael Essayan steps down. His son Martin, great-grandson of Calouste Gulbenkian, takes his place.

  27. 2008

    The Art Fund takes over the Gulbenkian Prize for Museums and Galleries, something it still administers today.

  28. 2009

    The Making Every Adult Matter coalition is created with the Foundation as a catalyst. It brings together organisations which work with offenders, people with mental health problems, the homeless and others to create a collaborative approach to working with people with multiple needs.

  29. 2009

    The Foundation leaves its offices in Portland Place, where it had been since the 60s, and moves to a purpose-built new home in Hoxton Square, Shoreditch. The new building gives the Foundation the ability to host events, enabling it to be facilitator in bringing organisations together to share knowledge.

  30. 2011

    The Campaign to End Loneliness is launched. The Campaign has its roots in the Calouste Gulbenkian UK Branch, which convened the organisations which developed it and supported it with core funding in its early years.

  31. 2012

    The Foundation supports the creation of With One Voice, a performance given by approximately 300 homeless people ahead of the London Olympics.

  32. 2014

    Three programmes of work for the next five years begin. They are Sharing The Stage, Valuing The Ocean and Transitions in Later Life.

  33. 2015

    The Marine CoLABoration is established, bringing together 9 NGOS with a joint ambition to communicate the value of the ocean more effectively.

  34. 2016

    An inquiry into ‘The Civic Role of Arts Organisations’ is launched. In true UK Branch tradition, a panel of advisors are informing  the work and will help us to develop recommendations which we aspire will have a profound impact on policy and practice including by seeding a movement of ‘like-minded’ arts organisations committed to their civic role.

  35. 2016

    With Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation support, a UK delegation of people who have experienced homelessness perform in Rio de Janeiro at the Cultural Olympiad. At this event, With One Voice, an official international arts homeless movement which the foundation has helped to develop, is launched.

  36. 2018

    #OneLess campaign influences ‘refill revolution’ in London – Mayor of London commits £5 million for fountains

  37. 2020

    The UK Branch announces that its work will have a stronger international dimension and that it is exploring how it can play a role in supporting climate action with the launch of Citizen Engagement on Climate programme.

  38. 2020

    The Award for Civic Arts Organisations is established to reward arts organisations that put civic and community engagement at the core of their work. The first edition awarded £150,000 to four organisations that showed exceptional civic practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  39. 2021

    Battersea Arts Centre's The Agency, a programme which empowers young people to create positive change in communities, secures over £1 million from the National Lottery, following our seed funding.

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