Letters - Museums Association


Loans help to boost museum links I enjoyed Julie Nightingale’s important article about museum loans (Museums Journal August 2006, p12-15). …
Museums Association
Loans help to boost museum links

I enjoyed Julie Nightingale's important article about museum loans (Museums Journal August 2006, p12-15). The news of Alec Coles's investigation of the topic for the National Museum Directors' Conference and the Museums Association's work on the subject is especially welcome. However, it is hoped that this work will take account of the amount of lending undertaken by regional museums.

The Nightingale article might seem to suggest that nationals lend and regionals borrow, but, in fact, the traffic is two -way. The Ashmolean lends about 500 items every year, to about 115 venues. Thus the news that the British Museum (BM) adds figures for visitors who saw its collections at other venues to its stats is particularly welcome. We shall similarly add the numbers for the hugely successful Raphael, Michelangelo and Palmer exhibitions to the Ashmolean visitor figures, as we were major lenders to these shows.

Nor should we forget lending between regional museums. For example, the Ashmolean will lend the Alfred Jewel to the forthcoming Hampshire Anglo-Saxon exhibition in 2008 - a good example of Hub cooperation. The Ashmolean loans programme will also benefit from Renaissance in the Regions support, which will double our number of registrars to two.

However, the issue of resources is a real concern. The Ashmolean loans programme is under pressure - and no wonder. Nightingale tells us the BM spends £1m a year on its lending, with 34 staff working on loans to 167 venues. The Ashmolean lends to about 115 venues a year with a staff of two!

Let's hope the research now being undertaken on this topic will take proper account of the needs of regional museums as lenders as well as borrowers.

Christopher Brown, director, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

We were pleased to see the article on loans in Museums Journal, as it reflects the growing interest in closer cooperation between national and regional museums and galleries. It was very timely, as many national museums and galleries are developing such links and participating in discussions within the sector about sharing collections through lending.

We were also pleased to note that colleagues in regional organisations feel that lending by nationals has improved in recent years, while agreeing with them that more could be done.
The figures in the table accompanying the article represent only a fraction of the true picture and there is a danger that they could be misinterpreted.

The British Museum's figure of 167 loan venues in 2005/06 included all types of loan: long term and short term; to national and non-national organisations; touring exhibitions; and collaborative exhibition projects. On this basis, the number of UK loan venues in 2005/06 for our organisations would have been 62 for the National Portrait Gallery (not 36); 278 for the V&A (not 35); 156 for the National Museums of Scotland (not 24); and 253 for Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (not 70).

We also wanted to highlight that national-regional museum collaboration is not just about collections mobility. Alongside other national institutions, we are building many partnerships with non-nationals that encompass learning and community projects, staff development and building professional capacity for the whole sector.

Helen Jones, head of planning, Victoria and Albert Museum; Angela Gaffney, partnerships manager, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales; Jilly Burns, national partnerships manager, National Museums of Scotland; Laura Down, national programmes manager, National Portrait Gallery

Mannequins play a part in trench scenes

Here at the Musée Somme 1916 (Somme Trench Museum), we were somewhat taken aback by comments made in an article written by Dea Birkett (Museums Journal July 2006, p34-37).

The bone of contention centres on the comments made by an employee at the Historial, Frédéric Hadley, who suggested that the practice of dressing mannequins up in uniform is reminiscent of an amusement park spectacle. We cannot be blamed for perceiving that the comment was directed at our museum.

At our museum, the trench scenes are set into alcoves in an underground passage. There is a definite ambiance to our museum because of these cold, damp, subterranean surroundings. The trench scenes come alive because we place upright figures in uniform within them. We, therefore, make extensive use of mannequins for the right reasons. Other good-quality museums in Britain and France follow this trend and, if Hadley is to be believed, then we are all making dreadful mistakes. The visual impact of our museum also appeals to school groups, which respond more readily to the trench scenes.

Given that the Historial in Péronne is only 25km away and that our two museums are supposed to work in tandem on the Somme Battlefield Remembrance Circuit, it was upsetting for us to read these comments.
Our museum is an association, which means that it receives no outside investment. Prices for entry tickets are kept low to allow school groups and large parties to visit. This is commendable, but it means that the museum is under-funded. However, despite its limited resources, it is a decent museum situated in what was the most important British garrison town on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme. Albert is a town that means a lot to the British. We are sorry that your magazine allowed this sentiment to be betrayed.

All we can do is invite you to visit our museum to redress the balance. You could start by visiting our website: www.somme-trench-museum.co.uk

The president, museum staff and the members of the board of governors, Musée Somme 1916, Somme

Fans are the keepers of sports archives

I read your article about the Sports Heritage Network producing a report on developing awareness of sports collections in museums (Museums Journal August 2006, p9). I hope the report acknowledges the potential contribution of not just museum collections, but also loyal, individual sports fans.

In May, I completed a 12-month exhibition project about the centenary of Crystal Palace Football Club with a colleague, Steve Hill. At the start of the project, we were staggered that the club had no archive except contemporary match photos. But 50 Palace fans from around the UK answered our appeal for material and provided a rich variety of 2-D and 3-D material covering 100 years. Thanks to our exhibition, we accidentally encouraged family history as several visitors started to discover the movements of their Scottish- or Newcastle-born grandfathers who had moved south to play for this south London club.

I discovered that the attitude to sports history of most football clubs could be summed up by the Palace fan who in the 1990s witnessed 1950s accounts ledgers being burned in a skip outside the club's Selhurst Park ground. The appalled fan managed to rescue some slightly singed pages and donated them to the Local Studies Archive at Croydon Clocktower. It is the fans who keep the memorabilia, and who are the real curators of British sports heritage, and they should be encouraged to share their passion with museum collections.

Hamish MacGillivray, freelance museum project manager

Visitors enjoyed the mix at Anatomy Acts

Rachel Souhami questioned the success of the theming for Anatomy Acts, (Museums Journal July 2006, p46-47) and thought the commissioned artwork and poetry sat uneasily with the other exhibits.

Readers may be interested in the audience research from the exhibition. Responses came from 749 people: 98 per cent said they enjoyed the show and 95 per cent would like to see more exhibitions like it; 95 per cent said it made them think more about the history of medicine; 83 per cent said it made them think about the relationship between art and medicine; more than half said it made them think about their own health and the health of others in a new way; and 91 per cent thought it was a good idea to have contemporary art in the exhibition, and that historic exhibits, modern technologies and contemporary art worked well together.

Souhami obviously did not experience the exhibition in a similar way to the vast majority of visitors. The exhibition, of course, was not without fault, but there should never be an interpretation orthodoxy for museum exhibitions. We tried something new and the public thought it was great.

Dawn Kemp, chair, Scotland & Medicine, and director of heritage,
the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Theatre group only considering database

I was surprised to read that the Theatre Information Group 'has set up a database to share information about previous theatrical productions and the history of theatre' (Museums Journal June 2006, p38). If only it were that easy: our current project, funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) under the Subject Specialist Network programme, is only a feasibility study.

Thanks to the MLA funding, we have made enormous strides in devising and agreeing a national standard for describing theatrical productions and performances. The plan for a database of the type you described is now in place, but we do not yet have the funds to take this forward.

In the meantime, those with an interest in theatre history can find online resources at: www.backstage.ac.uk and www.peopleplayuk.org

Guy Baxter, chair, UK Theatre Information Group

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