Policy & research

New research into UK touring exhibitions published

Exhibition visitors viewing work by Mairi Chisholm
Exhibition visitors viewing work by Mairi Chisholm

Today we are publishing new research, commissioned in partnership with Creative Scotland, providing an overview of the current practice and future potential for touring and sharing exhibitions and visual arts programmes across the UK.

Going Places: Touring and shared exhibitions in the UK investigates how cultural organisations are working together to share collections and programme temporary projects, offering an overview of the current landscape as described by more than 200 museum and gallery professionals surveyed across the four nations.

The research will inform the development of funding programmes of support and help to build a strong UK-wide policy framework.

The research highlights the following key developments in UK exhibition touring:

  • Touring models tailored to local contexts - A vital step for post-pandemic survival, given the trend towards people taking part in cultural activities closer to home, to expand touring models tailored to local contexts.

  • Collections-based exhibitions and new partnerships - A notable shift is towards collections-based exhibition-making, avoiding the costly borrowing of works of art and objects from overseas. This is seen by many as an opportunity to form dynamic new partnerships.

  • Online networking – A seismic acceleration during the pandemic in producing online content and developing online networks. Wider support is needed to develop these links and resources.

  • Sustainability - Sustainability remains a critical consideration across the piece and regional tours could help organisations move towards carbon neutrality.

Sarah Philp, Director of Programme and Policy at Art Fund, said: 'This research is invaluable, offering a full picture of the current touring landscape, identifying what museums, galleries and visual arts organisations need most from us to help share their work even more widely. Although the pandemic has been incredibly challenging for our sector, new models for touring shows and programmes offer exciting possibilities both for partnerships between organisations and for local communities to get more involved.

'Impressive programmes have been running for years but there is huge potential to do even more, and this will take time, energy and resources. It has been a privilege working with Creative Scotland on this and we look forward to working with partners to support the priorities identified.'

Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts at Creative Scotland, said: 'This report highlights the benefits that come from touring and hosting exhibitions as well as the barriers that organisations face in developing and sustaining this activity. It demonstrates that collaborative working between cultural organisations is critical as we start to address the impacts of Covid-19 and other pressing issues impacting the country, including the climate emergency, social justice and racial inequality.

'Creative Scotland welcomes the report’s findings and will continue to work with Art Fund and other UK partners to explore how we can ensure the best possible conditions for museums and galleries to be ambitious in their programming and to share their learning and their work with the public into the future.'

Key findings

Although many outstanding examples of touring models already exist, the research identified demonstrable need for much stronger support across the UK to help establish a new era of creative partnerships. The most cited barrier to developing a touring exhibition was time and staff capacity. Other barriers included finding suitable museum partners, cost, onerous paperwork, stringent loan conditions and difficulty researching appropriate funding.

Going Places therefore highlights the urgent need for:

  • Better information about how to access funding sources for touring

  • Funding for infrastructure to improve environmental conditions

  • Deepening of ‘matchmaking’ between museums

It also shows the need for better joined-up thinking between the four nations and more availability of smaller-scale, family-friendly exhibitions for loan to less well-resourced institutions.

In addition, the research advocates for making the government’s Museums and Galleries Exhibition Tax Relief (MGETR) permanent. This would allow museums and galleries to recover significant costs, particularly where budgets are stretched to breaking point.

The research also highlighted many wonderful examples of touring models, among them split-site tours such as the British Art Show; single-work tours such as the National Gallery’s Masterpiece Tour; smaller specialist exhibitions such as those developed by Impressions in Bradford for both art and non-art venues; the Jerwood Art Fund Makers’ Open, a biennial award offering new commissions to five early-career artists whose work is then displayed in a UK-wide exhibition tour; ARTIST ROOMS, which has over 80 associate venues across the UK; and collaborative exchange such as at Ruthin Craft Centre in North Wales, who have been sharing contemporary craft exhibitions for 25 years. The recently established Museums and Galleries Network of Exhibition Touring (MAGNET), a network of 11 museums, all of them outside London apart from lead partner the Horniman Museum, will make a series of co-curated exhibitions.

Nick Merriman, Chief Executive of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, said: 'Given the pressure on every institution, it’s really important that we develop models of exhibition touring, like MAGNET, that enable regional museums to share their resources and introduce wider audiences to the wonderful things we hold on their behalf.'

Beth Bate, Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA), said: 'I welcome the findings and recommendations of this new research, which has taken on a new light since the start of the pandemic. The museums and galleries sector is innovative and inventive, and the research highlights the need to capitalise on this, with better joined-up thinking between our four nations, support for capital infrastructure improvements and the promotion of good practice, particularly around online working, diversity, and environmental sustainability. Partnership working and a commitment to audiences and access are cornerstones of our work, and the new research makes clear what can be achieved when we work together.'

Read the full report: Going Places: Touring and shared exhibitions in the UK.

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