This is what (I hope!) will be the first in a series of blog posts for M+H Advisor on working internationally. So rather than try to cram everything I can into one post, I’ll take this opportunity to introduce the Working Internationally Regional Project (WIRP) and share some findings from my recent research.
The WIRP is led by the International Council of Museums UK (ICOM UK) in partnership with the National Museum Director’s Council (NMDC), the British Council, and Heritage Without Borders (HWB). After running a successful pilot project in 2014-15 with funding from Arts Council England’s Renaissance Strategic Support fund, the project partners secured funding from the ACE Museum Resilience Fund to continue the project until April 2017. This funding enables further research into the challenges faced by regional and local museums already working internationally or with ambitions to, mapping of the models of international work taking place, and delivery of the WIRP programme. The research feeds directly into the programme to ensure it supports regional and local museums with their ambitions to work internationally in a sustainable way.
So what about the research? Well, since June I ran a survey, attended regional meetings and events, and undertook a number of phone conversations and face-to-face interviews. I’ve found that the primary motivation for regional and local museums undertaking international work is to raise their profile nationally and internationally. This is often about demonstrating reach and impact to major funders, and about recognising that resilience is not built through existing in isolation. Raising profile is followed by the desire to develop and share skills, knowledge and expertise, bring different perspectives to collections and shared heritage, and to develop long-term international partnerships. For those museums not already working internationally, attracting new and diverse audiences is an additional major motivation.
And the challenges? Where do these regional and local museums find the time and money to work internationally? The answer is usually from a patchwork of sources (internal and external), so it is probably not surprising that a major challenge of working internationally is the cost of international travel. A lack of resources (time and money) is obviously a major issue, as are the difficulties of working with different infrastructures in the museum and heritage sector abroad. Even though generating income (or even off-setting costs) does not rank highly overall in the motivations for working internationally, most museums are seeking a balance between work that is relative low-cost to deliver, or builds on work they are already doing, alongside work that might generate income. If generating income from working internationally is not the primary motivation, then the type of work developed will reflect this. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach when working internationally, and the most successful models are developed by museums who are confident of their strengths, clear about the unique contribution they can make to a project or partnership, and know what they want benefits they want to receive from working internationally.
The WIRP will address the raised challenges through delivering a series of thematic one-day workshops in which museum colleagues will share examples of best practice and models of working, provide facilitated sessions to enable museums to determine the best model of working internationally for their organisation, and provide participants with an opportunity to network, share experiences, and potentially develop new partnerships. An international travel grant scheme will enable museums to apply for a modest grant in 2015 to undertake international travel in 2016, and we will continue to develop the wealth of working internationally online resources on the ICOM UK website.
And how can regional and local museums get involved in the WIRP to benefit from the support on offer? I am always looking to increase the depth of the research, so do get in touch if you have been working on an international project, or have plans to. Full details of the workshop programmes and international travel grant scheme will be available shortly, so keep an eye on the ICOM UK website or contact me if you would like to join the WIRP mailing list and receive the latest updates on the programme as they are announced.
Contact Dana by email.