Museums Association Conference: Three Lessons Learnt

Last week a lot of things happened (to say the least!); one of them was the annual Museum Association UK conference in Glasgow. So, a part of the Vastari team pulled on our warmest sweaters and Vastari hoodies and headed up north. After almost a week in Glasgow, talking to museum professionals from all parts of the sector, and hosting Vastari’s workshop on ‘Measuring the success of Travelling Exhibitions’ what are the lessons learnt?

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1 - Working Together

Be you a small organisation or major conglomerate in a world where countries are building walls around themselves and pulling out of unions; international collaborations and joining forces have never been more important.

During the conference museum professionals from small and large institutions shared fantastic examples of working together internationally. Lindsey Moreton from Haslemere Educational Museum presented a case study named: ‘How Smaller Museums Can Work Internationally?’ dedicating the first half of the talk on how she applied for funding, and what her budget was.

As an extreme example of how partnerships benefit museums; Nicholas T. Kondoprias (Partner, PAN Art Connections Inc., Ex-Executive Director, Herakleidon Museum) spoke about how the success of the Greek Herakleidon Museum’s travelling exhibitions department not only allowed them to work in partnerships with museums from all over the world, but it creates a sustainable revenue stream for the museum.

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2 - Self Sustainability Thinking About Money and Profit

It is surprising that money is a rare subject at museum conferences, and when discussed, it is usually addressed as government funding.

If we learned anything in the last few years and particularly in 2016 is that even stable governments and stable economies can surprise us. Government funding has a habit and is liable of of being cut. Many museums are doing incredible work when it comes to developing private patronage with a slow shift in the attitude towards for-profit activities within a museum.

A few years ago there was still debate about whether or not a gift shop in a museum was a good idea, now it’s standard practice. However there is space to go beyond merchandising. Touring exhibitions should not just be about breaking even or recovering costs but also about creating revenue streams.Museums could bring in travelling exhibitions, ones that have a track record of being well- attended, the institution can then engage with a new and wider audience and also tour their own content. Nicholas T. Kondoprias rightly pointed out that the most expensive part of creating a touring exhibition is the upfront cost; once that’s done “you might as well share it with others”.

3 - Working in the Real and the Digital World

There are digital tools including social media, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems and online ticketing or professional tools like Vastari Exhibitions and Vastari Collections. These tools not only save museum professional’s valuable time, but make the job more manageable, often allowing curators, directors, and travelling exhibition managers more time focusing on their job rather than on the paperwork that comes with it.

Nicholas’ travelling exhibitions are some of Vastari’s early successes. By listing PAN Art’s exhibitions on Vastari Exhibitions Nicholas managed to connect to museums interested in hosting the exhibitions all around the world. Did Vastari replace Nicholas’s job? Of course not. We helped him save days of his time by finding museums interested in hosting his show. Vastari made the connection, but it was Nicholas who was in charge of the creative and financial negotiations that made the collaboration a success for both parties involved.

Technology will never replace curators and exhibition managers but working together it will vastly enhance their productivity.