Response to the draft National Strategy for Public Collections of Contemporary Art

June 2009

1.0 Introduction

1.1. The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has 5000 individual members and 600 institutional members.

Formed in 1889, it receives no regular government funding. It seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and the people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to everyone.

The MA has given its views on collections and collecting in the Collections for the Future report (2005), through the Effective Collections programme (2006 to date) and through its consultation on collections-related knowledge (2008).

Publications associated with this body of work, especially the recently published Effective Collections: programme prospectus 2009-12, further discuss the themes highlighted in response to the specific consultation questions.

As a member of the National Contemporary Art Collections Working Group, the MA has played an active role in shaping the National Strategy for Public Collections of Contemporary Art.

Through this response to the draft strategy, we wish to support development of the strategy, reiterate the key points we have made via the working group, and also represent the views of the wider MA staff and Executive Committee.

2.0 Responses to consultation questions

Do you agree that the six objectives of the draft strategy address all of the issues facing our public collections of contemporary art now and looking into the future? If no, is there anything else you would wish to see covered in the strategy?

The six objectives for the national strategy balance well and cover the central points of importance for public collections of contemporary art.

The focus on use and sharing of collections, rather than simply acquisitions is correct - both to remain relevant to the whole of the museum and visual arts sectors, and from the perspective of developing sustainable and manageable collections.

A real strength of the strategy is its wide appeal and inclusive approach in helping more museums to use contemporary art.

The MA would welcome more explicit consideration of issues around the acquisition of contemporary art, especially in the context of the difficult conservation requirements of many objects and installations.

For example, is it reasonable to expect to keep some materials in perpetuity, should museums be explicitly encouraged to consider disposal alongside acquisition?

These are perhaps later questions for work stimulated by the strategy, but we would urge a bold approach in the strategy to tackle these emerging issues.

In addition, the MA agrees that attempts to secure additional funding should remain a lesser priority to the other five in the strategy.

With limited prospect of sourcing additional funding it is sensible to lead the strategy with objectives where we can see change.

Also, a greater proportion of collections-related organisations will feel they might benefit from a strategy that focuses more on use and sharing of collections.

However, it is useful to repeat the argument for tax incentives in such a key document.

Would you or your organisation be able to subscribe to the strategy as outlined in the paper?

The MA supports and subscribes to the strategy. We are already committed to several of the areas of work discussed and are ready to lead on the areas that fall within the remit of Effective Collections - for example on key principles of loans and approaches to risk.

What do you consider the most important conditions to have in place in order to implement this strategy?

A key point that the MA has found with Effective Collections is that there is a lot of support amongst museums for increased and innovative use of collections - which is a major step towards implementing the strategy.

However, this can sometimes be limited to 'in principle' support and it is more difficult to see real changes in practice, especially in the current financial climate.

To implement the strategy, ACE and the working group will need to clearly articulate the benefits of using, sharing and developing contemporary art collections so that the advocacy message can be consistent and well understood.

By developing the strategy as a consensus document, across the museum and visual arts sectors, this should be possible.

Implementation of the strategy will need a combination of working with funders and policy-makers to require changes in practice (the stick, see below) and working with individuals and champions to develop case studies (the carrot).

It will be important to have at least some funding to develop case studies and demonstrate change.

What cultural shifts are required in the sector, from funders and from government? What actions or practical changes are needed to ensure the vision can be realised?

A cultural shift that would allow and encourage lots more museums to share their collections more (generally) is to value the exhibition of an item offsite as much as it is valued when exhibited onsite.

This is a challenge, for example given prioritisation of funding at the moment, attitudes to risk to collections, and reporting structures for audience figures to DCMS or local government.

This national role is inherent for national museums, but could be expressed more strongly through DCMS. Also, funders should require the sharing and diverse use of objects that they support (e.g. Art Fund acquisitions).

Case studies, exemplar projects and individual champions will stimulate more museums, and people in museums who work within different disciplines, to understand and acknowledge the ways that they can use contemporary art collections - e.g. to illuminate their existing collections, or to reach new audiences.

Another point that the strategy has in common with Effective Collections is to encourage champions, or hot spots, or centres of excellence to be proactive in sharing their expertise, resources, and collections.

Examples to build on in the implementation of the strategy might be Tate Connects, Designated collections, and shared learning from Art Fund International.

Two areas of work initiated by Effective Collections have a big overlap with the strategy, and the MA is keen for those involved with the strategy to also contribute to these pieces of research and policy development. They are about approaches to risk, and about the key principles of loans.

2.10 The strategy talks about options for increased sharing of resources for the storage, care and transport of collections. The MA believes we need to see much greater collaboration between organisations in the coming years, so we welcome investment in and promotion of models to help museums to achieve more efficient shared ways of working.

For one element of this, through Effective Collections and the MA's work on sustainability, we want to begin discussions with transport agencies and key lending organisations on options for cheaper and greener transport of works.

The strategy demonstrates that leading sector bodies are working together much more on collections issues, and are in a position to communicate jointly out to the museum and visual art sectors.

This is a good thing but must continue, and we should ensure that any network or regional support system that is developed as part of implementing the strategy brings together both Renaissance hubs and Turning Point groups.

Members of MA Executive Committee raised two points in discussion of the draft strategy. The first relates to sector specific skills, and the importance of supporting training in specialist areas such as care of plastics or working with digital media.

The second was an interesting point about working with artists. An action that might result from the strategy could be to produce guidance for artists who wish to work with museums (as well as the other way around).

This would cover details such as the care of works produced, and also manage expectations for what each side of the partnership can offer.

Are there any specific ways you or your organisation could contribute to making the strategy a reality?

The following contributions are mentioned throughout the text above, and have been discussed at working group meetings:

· Lead research on attitudes to risk with partners
· Lead work on key principles of loans and what this means in practice, e.g. for loan fees and conditions
· Stimulate discussions with transport agencies and key lending organisations about options for shared transport and more sustainable transport solutions
· Making Main and Special Project Funds of Effective Collections open to contemporary art collections, and to partnership projects
· Supporting dissemination of ideas in the strategy via conferences, e.g. session at MA annual conference and Reflecting the Contemporary one day conference (November 2009)

Sally Cross