My Second Month as Vastari's Travelling Exhibitions Manager
It’s hard to believe but it has now been two months since I joined Vastari as the Travelling Exhibitions manager. If the first month was marked by exploration, month two was marked by even more meetings with museums and becoming a specialist in the market for travelling exhibitions.
VASTARI on BBC!
And did I mention Vastari was on BBC? Our team woke up to a social media storm as BBC did a short feature about us and played it on TV! It’s not about our travelling exhibitions network, but the work Vastari does with collectors demonstrates our vision of being a non-partisan facilitator within the arts & culture sector.
This graph is taken from page 3 of ‘Research into Fees and Economic Models for International Touring Exhibitions produced by UK Museums and Galleries’, by Dana Andrew, commissioned by British Council, March 2016. The research can be read here.
The Wild Wild West
Touring exhibitions are the wild wild west of the museum world. Until recently it was only the major museums that toured shows (think Natural History Museum, British Museum, V&A, Smithsonian). In the last 1-2 years an explosion of travelling exhibitions happened (see the pie chart above), and museums that have never before toured shows started touring.
With so many new players - and no rules or standards on how to tour - everyone started making up their own rules and working in a way that fits them best. After speaking with over 100 museum directors, curators, heads of exhibitions and travelling exhibition managers and reading all the literature that exists on the topic, I finally feel I have a good grasp on what’s happening.
Given the momentum travelling exhibitions appear to be gathering, it seems that the best time to start preparing to tour your shows is now. Delaying by a year would mean that in 2017-2018 you will be trying to enter an overcrowded market.
This graph is taken from ‘TEG Economics of Touring Exhibitions Survey Report - An Analysis of Touring Exhibitions Practice’, commissioned by Travelling Exhibitions Group (UK), research produced by Charlotte Dew, April 2016.
“Exhibits or Exhibitions?”
15 minutes into our conversation, the curator of one of the state museums in the America paused me to ask ‘Hold on a second, are you talking about travelling exhibits, or travelling exhibitions?’ Ironically, he was the 100th person I spoke with and the first to ask this question. He went on to explain ‘A travelling exhibition is like a blockbuster exhibitions - it costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of space. A travelling exhibit is a few display cases, a small exhibition that does not take a fortune to insure and tour, that can be loaned to smaller museums, libraries and interpretation centers.’
This simple question ‘Exhibits or Exhibitions?’ came as a revelation, a big ‘aha’ moment, the final piece in the puzzle that gave context to the variety of pricing models I saw.
Partnerships, touring models, and pricing
I was planning to give a summary of everything I found in this blog post but that is way too ambitious so a separate research paper will be published later this month that will examine the biggest pain points: international partnerships, touring models, and most importantly PRICING.
Now let’s get back to my second month at Vastari.
Conference season: Negotiating Art and Museum Next
April kickstarted my conference season.
The first conference visited was Negotiating Art - a conference that challenged my firm belief that the commercial art market should be kept separate from museums. One of the many reasons why I became part of Vastari is that Vastari is non-participatory, to make sure we stay that way we work on a set fee rather than a commission.
The majority of talks ended with a conclusion that roles in the art world have always been fluid you can be an art dealer one day, a museum director the next, and then sell your soul to property developers (think Jeffrey Deitch). The majority of patron groups in museums are filled with commercial gallery directors, and many collectors turn their collections into museums.
On Day 1 of the conference, the Vastari Team organised a panel discussion Touring Exhibitions: Learning from the Past and Looking at the Future. Francesca Polo presented the discussion, Bernadine Broker was the chair and Rachael Thomas, Senior Curator/Head of Exhibitions of Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin) and Rob Warren, Global Touring Manager, Science Gallery (Dublin) were the panelists.
The presentations given by the panelists were consistent with my own findings that there is a tendency to be more internationally focused, as well as looking to working in partnership.
What happens next?
The conference season with Museums and Heritage in London, AAM in Washington DC, We Are Museums in Bucharest in June and ICOM in Milan in July.