Simon Stephens, Issue 117/02, p4, 01.02.2017
Making no bones about the need for cooperation
There has been a lot of excitement recently about a collection of old bones that will tour museums across the UK. In fact, they are not even original items, just replicas.

But the skeleton in question is Dippy, the much-loved Diplodocus cast that sat centre-stage in the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall for many years. Dippy, which is being ousted by a blue-whale skeleton, will visit the UK’s four nations, starting in February next year at Dorset County Museum. Excitement is already building in Dorchester, and the museum’s director says: “Dippy could, literally, be the biggest thing to ever happen to Dorset, certainly to Dorset County Museum.”

The three-year Dippy tour is part of an ongoing drive by the nationals to offer exhibitions and loans to other museums. Initiatives includes the British Museum’s Spotlight loans, and Artist Rooms, a tour of the modern and contemporary art collection that was acquired by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland from art dealer Anthony d’Offay.

Many venues benefit greatly from programmes such as this, but national museums could still do more to support the wider sector by sharing resources.

The recently published Countries of Culture report by a select committee investigating funding for the arts outside London, emphasises the importance of partnerships in helping culture to flourish.

The report makes several recommendations as to how such work can be strengthened. Among the more interesting proposals is requiring national organisations to mentor smaller regional ones.

The report also says there is a strong case for a national body to coordinate lending and touring.

Connections between national and regional museums should be strengthened by changes in personnel at some of England’s nationals. Maria Balshaw will bring an in-depth understanding of regional working to her new role at Tate, while the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new boss, Tristram Hunt, was an important figure in the battle to save the Wedgwood Collection and keep it in Stoke-on-Trent.

With local authorities struggling to support museums and art galleries, the time is right to create stronger ties between museums all over the UK. Old bones are all very well, but some new ideas are also needed.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal