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Coonan reveals £50m 'Wren Fund'


Former arts council architecture chief Rory Coonan is in talks with the government about launching a new endowment fund to pump '10 to 50 times' as much money into architectural exhibitions and ideas as is available from current recognised sources.

Coonan masterminded the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) under former culture secretary Chris Smith in 1995. In that scheme, a one-off £200 million endowment from the Lottery creates a pool of around £15 million each year from the interest, and that money is siphoned off to spend on fellowships and ideas. Now Coonan wants to repeat the framework for radical and left-field design matters, using a £50 million one-off endowment.

This will come from philanthropists he has already been talking to, plus government support.

'It's a new, independent fund to promote architecture and design for the public, free from government direction, ' he told the AJ. 'The construction industry is huge at £87 billion but the amount of money spent on promoting knowledge and understanding to the public of what it's about is pathetic. Now the new government is in place, initial discussions on the fund can begin again in earnest.'

Coonan has named the scheme the 'Wren Fund' - or Foundation - after the famous architect, 'polymath' and fellow Wadham graduate.

Coonan added that applications for the money should be for radical exhibitions, publications and ideas, but not capital costs of buildings. 'There's a significant gap between what the government agencies like CABE can do and what an independent charity can do, ' he said.

It will be modelled on the Graham Foundation in Chicago and applications for money will be made online, while potential donors will be encouraged to dig deep by new tax breaks available to charity supporters.

Coonan is set to discuss the proposals further with the DTI, the newly formed Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the DCMS. These follow the initial talks he held before the election with the old DETR. Coonan called the shake-up 'a recipe for confusion', especially the split of planning from environment. But he praised outgoing culture secretary Smith as being 'the most civilised and civilising culture secretary since Jennie Lee in the 1960s'. In a speech to Reading University's Centre for Built Environment and Construction on Tuesday night, Coonan said:

'Smith left a legacy which will long outlive minor tremors like Wembley and the Dome.'

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