Smarter Loans: the benefit and impact of loans

The Captain Cook Museum

The Captain Cook Museum is a small independent museum with a tightly focused collection which they regularly enhance through loans.

The museum is a very active borrower, each year they mount a temporary exhibition which brings in nationally significant objects relating to Captain Cook and maritime history.

These objects are central to the success of their exhibition programme.

The museum borrows from a huge range of museums and other organisations and sees borrowing as a core activity, bringing them the following benefits:

• It provides an opportunity to bring objects out of large collections, where they may not be seen - including items from the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Banks collection which the PRM didn’t have room to display and items from the British Library which had never been on display before

• The museum can interpret material in ways that large institutions often may not be able to, giving context to material, and depth and substance to the Cook story

• Visitor figures have risen significantly since the museum ran an exhibitions programme. The visitor reactions are very positive, particularly about the quality of material on display

• The loans have been a catalyst for refreshing other aspects of the museum such as its education programmes. Working with other museums have helped staff to learn new skills particularly around display

• As well as being a key element of the museum’s marketing strategy the exhibition programme has significantly boosted its reputation, this has helped them with fundraising: Fish & Ships a series of exhibitions was at the core of a recent HLF funded project which enabled the museum to extend its activities programme and develop educational outreach work in ways that were previously impossible

Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed was a partnership between the British Museum, Renaissance East of England and three museums in the East of England: Ely Museum, Mill Green Museum & Mill and Dunwich Museum.

The aim of the project was to enable smaller museums to borrow objects from the British Museum’s (BM) collections.

As well as providing an opportunity for wider audiences to enjoy objects from the BM’s collection the project also aimed to act as a catalyst for participating museums to gain new skills and knowledge and access support and expertise from colleagues across the Renaissance East of England Museum Hub and the BM.

Dunwich Museum, which is predominantly run by volunteers, was the smallest of the museums taking part in the project.

They borrowed a number of seals from the British Museum, as well as seals from around the world they also borrowed the Dunwich Seal.

The Seal by the Sea exhibition opened in April 2011.

The impact of taking part in the Something Borrowed project has been significant, the museum has benefitted in a number of area, they include:

• Providing a catalyst for the development of the museum. The loans prompted a review and update of the elements of the museum’s infrastructure, procedures, displays and activities – they now have improved security and environmental conditions in place and it has stimulated the redevelopment of galleries

• Learning more about the loans process in general, and working with a national specifically – they are now more confident about loans and are now in a far better position to take on future loans

• Developing knowledge and skills from colleagues in the East of England and the BM. As well as collections related knowledge they developed knowledge around design and display and marketing and publicity

• Raising the profile through improved publicity

• Brining in new visitors

• The acquisition of new display cases

• Developing formal learning and events programmes, the first in the museums history: they developed separate art and craft sessions for children and adults and a series of lectures. As a result of this they will be developing a regular education programme.

Pharaoh: King of Egypt at the Dorset County Museum

In autumn 2011 the British Museum’s (BM) blockbuster Pharaoh King of Egypt exhibition opened in Dorset County Museum (DCM).

DCM was the smallest museum to host the touring exhibition and only got the opportunity to do so after the BM advertised on the MA’s Find and Object website for a new venues after a museum had to pull out.

The exhibition, which features the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts ever to be lent by the BM, ran for four months at DCM and has had a huge impact on the museum:

• Visitor figures increased by over 400% for the same period the previous year

• The museum has been supported to become more financially sustainable:

Through admission fees and increased spending in the shop and tea room the museum increased its income by 520%. This helped to the museum to cope with a 25% cut in funding.

The exhibition and the association with the BM have raised the museum’s profile, particularly with the local business community. This has resulted in new funding and sponsorship opportunities with the private sector

• The museum has raised its profile throughout the county and the wider South West region

• It has increased press coverage of the museum and its activities, including a column about the museum written by the local MP

• Through the partnership with the BM the museum has learnt about new approaches to displays and exhibitions

• The museum has developed long-term relationships at the BM, they are currently working with colleagues at the BM on their archaeology exhibitions

• They increased the number of school visitors by over 3000, including a number of schools who have never been before. This has led to relationships with new schools and potential future visits

• DCM invested in long-term improvements for the exhibition which mean they are now in a far better placed to borrow more material in the future

National Portrait Gallery and TWAM
NE partnership projects

An aspect of the partnership between the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the North East Regional Museum Hub, led by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum (TWAM), was their work together to loan regionally significant portraits to a wide range of museums across the North East.

So far the partnership has delivered two dispersed exhibitions across the region in 2008 and in 2011: North Face and Explorers.

In both cases the projects have focused on displaying portraits in locations that have a close link or association with the sitter.

North Face displayed portraits from the NPG’s collection of famous people from music, broadcasting, sports, the arts and journalism and Explorers featured portraits of people well known for travel and discovery.

In the majority of cases the loans have been to small independent museums.

The projects have bought benefits for both the lender and borrower:

• The NPG has been able to work with a wider range of museums, particularly smaller ones who have never borrowed from a National before. This has helped the NPG to develop a good understanding of the support needed to enable museums like this to borrow objects

• The loans have increased visitor figures at participating museums

• TWAM and NPG provided support and advice to participating museums, including visits to all venues

• The loans have been a catalyst for additional research into collections at some of the venues

• Participating museums have been supported to improve their facilities so that the loans can go ahead; as a result all are now much better equipped to take more loans in the future

Future Museums South West

Future Museums is a partnership between independent museums in the South West of Scotland and the four local Councils.

The partnership was set up in 2006/7 and was funded for 3 years through the Regional Development Fund, administered by Museums Galleries Scotland.

The aim of the project was to focus on common subject areas across the region, the project aimed to provide better access to the collections of museums in the South West of Scotland through the development of a web resource.

There was also an exhibition strand, which included a number of touring exhibitions and exhibitions on the similar themes across all the venues. Loans between the partners and other lenders were an essential component of programme.

Through the partnership and resulting loans the museums:

• Developed closer relationships which make working together on future loans much easier, there is greater trust and confidence in the partners which can help cut down on the bureaucracy involved in loans

• Developed a better understanding of the collections in the different museums which makes it easier to for identifying and making requests for future loans

• Were able to develop new knowledge about their collections and how they related to the other museums in the region

• The quality of the outputs from the project: the web resource and exhibitions have helped the museums to attract in funders

Although the funding is no longer available the Future Museums South West web resource still exists and continues to be a promotional tool for the participating museums: