Travelling exhibitions are a tour de force

More than 80% museums want to  cut costs and boost audiences by working in partnership to develop touring exhibitions
Profile image for Gareth Harris
Gareth Harris
Travelling exhibitions are becoming increasingly important for developing audiences, raising profiles and generating income, according to a survey by the Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG).

The survey by the TEG,
a network of museums and galleries “committed to exchanging exhibitions”, assessed which touring exhibition models are most popular, and gathered information on the economic challenges faced by organisations that tour and hire shows.

The data, covering areas such as branding and funding models, will help
the TEG tailor its training.The most striking statistic is that 84.6% of respondents would like to work in partnership to develop touring exhibitions.

“It is all about shared costs and expertise, and building valuable partnerships,” says Steven Parissien, the director of the Warwickshire gallery Compton Verney. Its Canaletto: Celebrating Britain exhibition, which opened in the spring, has toured to the Holburne Museum in Bath (until 4 October), and will then head to Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.

Shared costs

“We all save money on transport, and particularly on conservation costs, both of which are shared equally,” says Parissien.

“It’s good public relations for all of us: a story of leading regional museums collaborating without the need to go cap-in-hand to the London nationals, some of which charge scandalously large administration fees.”

Neil McConnon, the head of Barbican International Enterprises, stresses that developing an exhibition to show and then tour can be a creative way to underwrite production costs.

“Working in partnership can diversify income, enable organisations to reach new audiences and enhance the profile of a venue internationally,” he says.

The TEG found that while 72% charged a hire fee for their touring exhibitions, the average amount was low. About 24% charged less than £1,000, while 37% asked for between £1,000 and £3,000.

But the issue of hire fees needs to be scrutinised, say some gallery professionals.
“Some guidelines or insight into hire fees would be useful – the way they are calculated is vastly different,” says
 Clare Simpson, the head of exhibitions at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London.

“Cost-sharing is interesting,” says Simpson. “We would always expect to cost share core elements 50/50, but there might be another way to think about this if we were touring to a smaller venue with fewer resources and lower visitation. Reconciling invoicing and shared costs
at the end of a major tour
is a mammoth task.”

More than 35% of respondents said that in the current climate, a “very important” factor in organising touring shows is to “generate profit”.

The dilemma, McConnon says, is that “the cuts that many UK organisations are facing understandably make them increasingly risk averse when, conversely, some managed risk-taking might be the best way to deal with the economic climate. There is a huge amount of content out there. I suspect that some museums need to be more proactive and willing to explore new territories, audiences and concepts.”

One model that’s becoming more popular is where several museums contribute a set amount of money to a group exhibition fund. Each tour package,meanwhile, is different.

“If we’ve originated the show, we always let our tour partners have all the interpretation and caption texts as part of the package,” says Parissien.

The survey asked what prevented museums and galleries hiring touring shows. The most common reason cited was a lack of temporary exhibition space (35.4%), followed by the cost (34.2%).

Vicky Dawson was the project manager for the Treasures from the Earth show, which toured 13 museums in the south-west between 2009 and 2012.

“Museums are losing staff and need to extract value from every bit of expenditure,” she says. “It is also important to remember that a touring exhibition means a museum has a changing programme, which is more likely to encourage repeat visits.”

Dawson’s advice for venues considering participating
in a touring programme is straightforward. “Operating
a successful touring exhibition is a question of minimising risks, being exceptionally well organised and having a contract with your partners,” she says.

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