Artistic intentions - Museums Association

Artistic intentions

Collaborations bring huge advantages for museums
Julie Nightingale and John Holt
It’s been a while since the old masters were the only artists with pulling power in museums and galleries.

Increasing numbers of contemporary practitioners – from singers to ceramicists, calligraphers to conceptualists – are flooding through the doors of our institutions to run residencies, put on performances and practical workshops and co-curate exhibitions with community groups.

These collaborations bring huge advantages for museums in difficult financial times. New and stimulating art is created, and long-term relationships with core audiences and stakeholders are re-invigorated by the novelty of having a working practitioner on the premises.

An artist installed in a storeroom, makeshift studio or gallery space can interpret objects and collections with a fresh pair of eyes while attracting curious new visitors and an enhanced media profile for the museum.

Among these pioneering partnerships is a collaboration between Siobhan Davies Dance and the National Gallery in London – part of a wider European Union-funded three-year project involving major European museums – that aims to find new ways to engage audiences with artworks through choreographed guided tours, workshops and a web platform.

In St Albans, sculptor-in-residence Lyndall Phelps worked with staff and volunteers as they documented and packed up the town’s museum collection in preparation for relocation to a new building. She will also produce a new artwork to mark the re-opening next year.

And artist Joy Pitts has spent seven weeks at Erewash Museum in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, to support her exhibition of works made up of labels from clothes in local charity shops.

Art lovers, meanwhile, have a financial as well as emotional investment in Collected and Possessed (28 November until 24 January 2016), an exhibition of the work of artist Mark Fairnington that opens next month at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London.

The museum used the Art Fund’s crowdfunding platform, Art Happens, to help raise £9,500 for the show, which is artist’s first UK exhibition for a decade. It will feature a range of work inspired by stored museum objects at the Horniman, the Natural History Museum and the Wellcome Collection.

Arts Council England’s (ACE) grants for the arts awards is a key source of funding for these sorts of projects in England. Awards this year have ranged from £72,000 for Lincoln Voices, marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, to £2,680 for a pilot artist-in-residence scheme at the Burton Constable Foundation in East Yorkshire.

In Wales, the Arts Council of Wales and the Heritage Lottery Fund have helped pay four artists to work at St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff for two months on projects, including 3D scanning of the site.

Another source of funding is the Leverhulme Trust's artist-in-residence grant scheme, which will reopen for applications in April 2016. This year, it funded a sculptor to investigate copyright law at the University of Cambridge and an installation examining the future of food at the University of Aberdeen.

Other funders, such as the Foyle Foundation, do not support individual artists, but will look at applications from registered charities whose focus is arts or learning.

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