Bringing more art to wider audiences through innovative loan initiatives
Art Fund’s recognition of the many benefits to museums and communities of touring exhibitions has led to its support for a range of initiatives, writes Marcus Field.
A huge bronze spider, one of the best-known works by the French American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), has been the talk of Blackpool this summer. The giant arachnid, nearly three metres tall, has been on display at the town’s Grundy Art Gallery (to 9 September) as part of the Art Fund-supported touring exhibitions initiative ARTIST ROOMS.
Touring shows are one of the most inclusive and sustainable ways of bringing art to new audiences, and Art Fund offers a growing range of support for them, from ARTIST ROOMS, the Weston Loan Programme and MAGNET to Going Places, a brand-new initiative.
ARTIST ROOMS began in 2008 when Art Fund supported the joint acquisition by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland of 725 works of international modern and contemporary art from the collection of gallerist Anthony d’Offay.
For the past 15 years, museums and galleries across the UK have been able to share in this national collection through solo artist-focused touring exhibitions, complete with education programmes and peer-learning opportunities, also supported by Art Fund.
‘Art Fund support is really critical for our partners,’ says Ceri Lewis, senior curator of ARTIST ROOMS at Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. ‘It supports the mechanisms of touring, such as transport costs, but it has also enabled some really brilliant learning and engagement projects that have been developed by the venues, which means there’s a real specificity to how the collection is used at each location.’
‘ARTIST ROOMS: Louise Bourgeois’ is one of three exhibitions from the collection currently on tour as part of the 2023-25 programme. The other two are photographs by Diane Arbus, at Shetland Museum and Archives, to 12 November and then at North Hertfordshire Museum, Hitchin, to 25 February 2024, and work by Martin Creed at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock, from 21 September to 6 January 2024.
The Weston Loan Programme – created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund in 2017 – has already benefited museums and their audiences with seven rounds of exhibitions support. Grants awarded under this programme enable regional and local museums to borrow works from national collections, and can be used to help with a range of costs associated with loans, from transport and installation to marketing and staff training.
The scheme is now building on the huge success of its previous rounds thanks to a £1 million grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation, which will take the partnership with Art Fund to its 10th anniversary in 2027.
Previous examples of the programme’s past support include the Becket Casket which was loaned by the V&A in London to the Peterborough Museum as part of their 'Treasures' exhibition in 2018 (see video above), and the inclusion of the British Museum’s Lampedusa Cross (2015) (made by Francesco Tuccio from the timbers of a wrecked refugee boat, in which more than 300 people lost their lives), in the exhibition ‘Crossings: Community and Refuge’, at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, from September to December 2021.
Meanwhile, Going Places, Art Fund’s new UK-wide programme, has launched its first phase by opening applications for 15 to 25 museum partners interested in collaborating in smaller networks to conceive and stage travelling shows, thus combining the strengths of their collections and expertise.
The emphasis is on engaging local people, building organisational resilience after the compounded challenges of the last few years, and to make shows with a high level of environmental sustainability.
The programme, which follows on from research undertaken with Creative Scotland, is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has enabled the initial development of the project. This focuses on mentoring, training and skills development, as well as exhibition planning. Further funding will be required for the delivery phase, with the first exhibitions expected to tour between 2025 and 2030.
Going Places also follows on from the creation of Museums and Galleries Network for Exhibition Touring (MAGNET), an Art Fund-supported initiative established in 2020 as a collaboration between 12 museums, all outside London, with the exception of lead partner, the Horniman Museum & Gardens, winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022.
The aim of the network is to share collections and resources, and co-curate exhibitions that will tour across the country, reaching diverse audiences. A pilot exhibition, ‘Hair: Untold Stories’, opened at the Horniman Museum in 2021 and subsequently toured to Tullie House in Carlisle and Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. With further support from Art Fund, the network now plans to develop three collections-based exhibitions that will tour between 2025 and 2028.
'ARTIST ROOMS Louise Bourgeois' will also be touring to Burton Art Gallery in Bideford from 18 November to 11 February 2024.