Joint practices - Museums Association

Joint practices

The work of regional arts bodies needs to be better coordinated if they are to attract more funds, argues Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton
Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton
Turning Point, The Arts Council England's new strategy for the contemporary visual arts, is not just a 'plea for more funding' (Museums Journal August 2006, p6). It was born out of a sense of lost opportunity and a frustration with the needless fragmentation of the arts and heritage, most marked in the visual arts.

Turning Point is a manifesto for change in ways of working, focusing on the regions. It celebrates success, but argues that current resources are not being maximised and that there has to be a new common cause. Only then will the call for sustained new public investment be irresistible.

We recently published a planetary map showing the scale and complexity of the bodies engaged with the visual arts across the heritage, education and contemporary fields. While the past ten years has seen seismic change and growth in the cultural landscape, there remains a sense of separate worlds warily orbiting each other and holding on fiercely to distinct points of view and ethos in the visual arts.

This is shown by the lack of crossover in delegates at the conferences of the Museums Association, the Association of Art Historians, and university- and arts-led contemporary art symposia and seminars. Professional specialisms exist and need to be nourished, but the lack of breadth in individuals and institutions leads to fixed attitudes and an inability to respond to demographic and technological change.

The heritage field acknowledges that the past is no refuge from the confusion and the contiguities of the present, and curatorial and education programmes have made great advances, especially in working with contemporary artists.

In recognition that more could be achieved if institutions joined forces, the major arts and museum bodies jointly published Values and Vision: the Contribution of Culture this summer.

So now it is time to create regional consortia of museums, galleries and artist agencies, working in a strengthened relationship with the Renaissance hubs and the nationals, to harness regional expertise to grow collections, staff development and mobility, and to address workforce diversity. The benefits to the nationals should not be underestimated either.

Collections are centre stage. Regional galleries regularly show international new work, but virtually none of it leads to acquisitions for our major regional museums. The arts council has convened a regional collections group to establish a Subject Specialist Network for contemporary art. This will look at regional and national partnerships and establish an online database of contemporary art in regional public collections.

Bristol has already made a start with joint programmes between the museums service, the Arnolfini and Spike Island contemporary arts centres and other artist groups. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Tate and the arts council are working on the database. This gives momentum, which the forthcoming Select Committee inquiry Caring for our Collections (Museums Journal September 2006, p7) may find interesting.

Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton is the director of visual arts at the Arts Council England

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