Touring exhibitions (nationally and internationally) seems to be the hot topic of the moment, from smaller museum dipping their toes into international touring, to national museums exploring new models and expanding their programmes.  As a sector, we are fortunate to have initiatives that support our ambitions – TEG (Touring Exhibitions Group) will pilot its Economics of UK Touring Exhibitions training at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on 4 November 2015, the British Council is developing its Supporting International Engagement programme for 2016, and the WIRP ran a sold-out workshop last week on international touring exhibitions and loans.

The presentations from the WIRP Workshop: International Touring & Loans that took place at MShed in Bristol on 22 September will be published on the ICOM UK website over the coming weeks, and the workshop programme can be downloaded here.

The aim of the workshop was to share an overview of the variety of international touring models adopted by museums and galleries, encourage strategic thinking about international touring and loans, encourage peer networking, and develop the confidence and knowledge of workshop participants.

Participants said there was great value in hearing and learning from a wide variety of case studies, as well as having the opportunity to network with colleagues from across the UK who are interested in touring internationally.  It was very clear that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to touring internationally, and it was encouraging to hear from museums and galleries of all sizes about how they are developing the best tour model (or a range of models) to suit their organisations.

The workshop really brought home to me the growing level of interest in touring exhibitions internationally, and although there are opportunities to off-set costs or generate income, this doesn’t seem to be the primary motivation behind international touring for many museums (despite the cuts in funding for most museums).  The main motivations coming across were the need or desire to work in partnership to create fantastic exhibitions and to share expertise and resources, and the ambition to raise an organisation’s profile nationally and internationally.

However, the information that everyone is looking for, and which, understandably, museums are struggling to share at peer-level is around budgets and fees.  How does a museum developing an international touring exhibition decide what fee to charge?  What other costs should museums try to share with partners, or charge back to venues?  What level of budget is required to tour an exhibition internationally, or develop an international touring exhibitions programme?  Where can museums find advice on writing exhibition contracts, and making a robust cost-benefits analysis?

Whilst the WIRP is encouraging open discussion on fees and budgets (or to at least acknowledge where generating income is the primary motivation), and has published National Museum Liverpool’s template partnership agreement, it seems that the sector needs to find an appropriate and useful way to talk about money and international touring exhibitions.  This is important if international touring exhibitions are going to become a strand of work that increases the resilience of non-national museums in the UK, particularly in terms of world-class reputation and as a sustainable income stream.

I hope this blog post might provoke some discussion, and I would love to hear from sector colleagues about how such discussions and sharing of information could be developed.

Back to top