Jane Gibson

Partnership power

Jane Gibson, 09.04.2014
The Cumbria Museum Consortium conference
The Cumbria Museum Consortium recently hosted a thought-provoking and challenging conference on the theme of partnerships at the Rheged Centre in Penrith.

With over 100 delegates attending from across the UK, the conference not only provided an opportunity to hear from leaders and innovators across our sector, but also to network with colleagues.

Chaired by Maurice Davies of the Museums Association, the speakers were drawn from strategic leadership and the front line of new and creative partnerships.

John Orna-Ornstein, director of museums at Arts Council England (ACE) started off the day giving an overview of ACE’s most up-to-date thoughts - a timely opportunity for those of us who had just pushed the “send” button on our applications for ACE funding.

Themes that emerged from his presentation included the need to look for partners from beyond as well as within our sector and the potential for partnerships to strengthen social and emotional resilience.

Tom Freshwater, contemporary arts programme manager with the National Trust, then took us from the strategic viewpoint of ACE’s leadership to the front line of installing contemporary art in historic settings - a challenging and exciting programme aimed at growing the nation’s love of special places through contemporary art and craft.

Esmé Ward, head of learning and interpretation at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, took us up to the lunch break, with the holy grail of sustainable partnerships, health and culture - a potent mix with a number of inspiring case studies showing the clearly demonstrable ways in which engagement with arts and culture can enhance wellbeing.

Esmé also encouraged us to look beyond the challenging strategic commissioning process and seize opportunities to collaborate wherever they arise, with funding through the National Health Service for an exhibition on art and illness providing an unexpected example.

After lunch we had an opportunity to see some of the projects being supported through the Cumbria Museum Consortium’s programme, including county-wide heritage learning support services and the new Treasures of Cumbria programme. We also had a chance to meet some of the consortium’s first year apprentices.

In the afternoon the three directors of the consortium received a grilling from Maurice on the challenges and highlights of learning to work together as a new partnership.

Then Martin Roth, director of the V&A in London, brought a national museum’s perspective to the proceedings and opened up the potential of international partnerships.

Martin exhorted us not to shrink from potentially challenging partnerships, highlighting the V&A’s recent collaboration with Libya.

We were also reminded of the challenges of these partnerships in the fast-moving sphere of world events, with consideration being given to the development of new partnerships with Russia in the same month as the developing situation with Ukraine.

The key message here was to keep communications channels open.

Richard Burns, international touring exhibitions coordinator at the Greater Manchester Museums Group, told us about the opportunities and challenges of planning and delivering a major touring exhibition of fine art across China.

Just the basic logistics of coping with overland travel between venues with distances in the hundreds or even thousands of miles brought things into perspective, as did the challenge of outside temperatures flipping from sub-zero to the 40s from one venue to the next, not to mention the numerous customs inspections and the etiquette of remaining fresh after the fourth or fifth opening ceremony and simultaneous ribbon-cutting.

Throughout the day delegates had the opportunity to quiz the speakers about their experiences and take back new potential to their own institutions, and the success of the day has led the consortium to investigate the possibility of further events.

Jane Gibson is manager of the Cumbria Museum Consortium, a partnership between the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, the Wordsworth Trust, and Lakeland Arts.