Issue 118/12, 01.12.2018
What is the future for blockbuster exhibitions?
Fears have been raised that the UK’s leading museums may be unable to stage the major exhibitions that attract visitors from all over the world if there is a no-deal Brexit.
Tristram Hunt, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, has warned that leaving with no agreements could mean staff cuts, import tax bills for loaned objects, reductions in research capability and fewer visitors. He said the V&A’s ability to hold blockbuster exhibitions could be hampered by having to pay import duties.
Janet Dugdale, executive director of museums, National Museums Liverpool
“Blockbusters can be great for driving footfall, increasing economic impact and profile, as shown by our success with China’s First Emperor & the Terracotta Warriors (600,000 visitors and £80m economic impact for Liverpool City Region). Blockbusters can be about change and ambition but are not the whole answer. They work for major collections and narratives. Museums need exhibition programmes with an interesting mix of scale, story, collections and engagement. For museums to be relevant and active place- makers, we must be responsive. We need difference too – not a homogenised global experience.”
Tim Reeve, deputy director and chief operating officer, Victoria and Albert Museum
“Demand for immersive and scholarly exhibitions has never been greater. Four of the V&A’s most popular ticketed exhibitions – David Bowie Is, Wedding Dresses, Pink Floyd and Alexander McQueen – took place in the past five years. It will be essential that the government continues to recognise the value of exhibitions to the UK creative economy, through initiatives such as tax credit. But museums can’t depend solely on blockbusters. The V&A’s model works by offering a mix of popular and scholarly shows, and because, increasingly, we partner with other organisations on imaginative programmes.”
Sally-Anne Huxtable, principal curator, modern and contemporary design, National Museums Scotland
“There is still a bright future for blockbuster exhibitions as they are hugely profitable and reach new audiences. As the popularity of the recent V&A Frida Kahlo exhibition demonstrates, there is great public enthusiasm for exhibitions focusing on artists’ lives and self-identity. Nevertheless, the British Museum’s 2017 Hokusai exhibition shows that there is still a strong appetite for the more traditional blockbuster that brings together the globally dispersed works of one artist. The increased costs of international loans that may result from Brexit will undoubtedly be offset by increases in ticket prices.”