New research says UK touring exhibitions need better museum ‘matchmaking’

Travelling Gallery near Ullapool (Courtesy the Travelling Gallery)

The ‘Going Places: Touring and shared exhibitions in the UK’ report is comminission by Art Fund in partnership with Creative Scotland.

A more robust matchmaking process for museums is just one of the recommendations which forms a new report into the UK’s touring exhibitions.

Over 200 museum, gallery and heritage professionals across the four nations were surveyed to form the ‘Going Places: Touring and shared exhibitions in the UK’ report, comminission by Art Fund in partnership with Creative Scotland.

The research was conducted to find out how cultural organisations are working together to share collections and programme temporary projects.

The research will inform the development of funding programmes of support and help to build a “strong UK-wide policy framework”.

The research highlights key developments including the expansion of touring models tailored to local contexts, collections-based exhibition making, an opportunity to form dynamic new partnerships, producing online content and developing online networks, and improved sustainability.

The most cited barrier to developing a touring exhibition, according to the report, was time and staff capacity. Other barriers included finding suitable museum partners, cost, onerous paperwork, stringent loan conditions and difficulty researching appropriate funding.

The Going Places highlights what it sees as an urgent need for better information about how to access funding sources for touring, funding for infrastructure to improve environmental conditions, and a deepening of ‘matchmaking’ between museums.

The report says there is also a need for better joined up thinking between the four nations and more availability of smaller-scale, family-friendly exhibitions for loan to less well-resourced institutions.

In addition, the research advocates for making the government’s Museum and Gallery Exhibition tax relief (MGETR) permanent. This would allow museums and galleries to recover significant costs, particularly where budgets are stretched to breaking point.

The report highlighted the recently established Museums and Galleries Network of Exhibition Touring (MAGNET), a network of eleven museums, all of them outside London apart from lead partner the Horniman Museum, will make a series of co-curated exhibitions.

Nick Merriman, Chief Executive of the Horniman Museum and Gardens said, “Given the pressure on every institution, it’s really important that we develop models of exhibition touring, like MAGNET, that enable regional museums to share their resources and introduce wider audiences to the wonderful things we hold on their behalf.”

Sarah Philp, director of Programme and Policy at Art Fund, called the new research invaluable, adding that it offers “a full picture of the current touring landscape, identifying what museums, galleries and visual arts organisations need most from us to help share their work even more widely.

“Impressive programmes have been running for years but there is huge potential to do even more, and this will take time, energy and resources. It has been a privilege working with Creative Scotland on this and we look forward to working with partners to support the priorities identified.”

Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts at Creative Scotland said the report demonstrated “that collaborative working between cultural organisations is critical as we start to address the impacts of Covid 19 and other pressing issues impacting the country, including the climate emergency, social justice and racial inequality.”