Certainly the days when museums kept everything in-house and employed large numbers of staff to look after exhibitions and loans seem to be a thing of the past. These days, entire installations are often project-managed by outside consultants and the trend is escalating.

There are many reasons behind this shift, ranging from recent budget cuts to an increase in health and safety red tape – and changes in attitude to litigation. But whatever the underlying reason it seems out sourcing is increasingly popular.

At Crown Fine Art we have noticed that more and more museums are looking to outsource jobs – such as the moving of heavy glass display cabinets for instance – that they would have undertaken themselves in years gone by.

We are being approached increasingly by people who have calculated that it makes financial and practical sense for us to look after projects that once would have been the remit of museum staff.

The cost of training, the complicated nature of health and safety rules that require method statements and risk assessments, and signs of a more litigious society all play their part.

There are significant benefits, however, in choosing a company such as Crown Fine Art to provide project management and installation services – not least the experience and skill of our team. Whereas in the past a museum registrar may have been asked to work with sculptures one day, paintings the next and then on collection management the following week, Crown Fine Art has a separate expert for each of those areas and is able to provide specialist consultants.

Our Technical Project Manager, David Gosling, is a good example. He has a museum background having worked as Head of Movement and Storage at the Imperial War Museum. Before joining Crown he organised the museum’s close-down, overseeing the removal of items so that major refurbishment could take place. Now, as a key Crown employee, he has helped organise the re-installation of those items – and the museum has recently re-opened.

It will be interesting to see how the trend develops; but it is clear the demand for project management skills is also growing as museums look to outsource entire projects.

This may involve not only assessing how to move items safely and efficiently but dealing with logistic issues such as parking and access, fitting in with health and safety needs, setting a timescale and assessing the resources that will be required.

This was particularly relevant when removing and reinstalling 35,000 books during the refurbishment of Queen’s College Library, Oxford.

It may have looked a simple operation but due to the physical location of the college and the access issues we decided the only practical route was to physically move the books in small batches, initially on trolleys, via the Provost Yard to our small vans. Then to move the books via Queens Lane and New College Lane under the Bridge of Sighs to Radcliffe Square.

Here we could safely tranship the books into one of our larger specialist fine art vehicles which would then move them to our secure fine art storage facility where they were kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment in our underground vaults.

All this had to be carried out to a very tight schedule – within five working days – and would involve many trips. It involved careful negotiation with the neighbouring Colleges and the City Council.

The biggest issue was that after our plans had been put in place – and we were feeling we had the job under control – we became aware that New College was requiring access via the same route as they were setting up their Commemoration Ball and were proposing to close New College Lane from the Thursday.

This required a rethink and we had to engage in some very diplomatic negotiations in order to ensure that we completed the task in time. In the end we changed our scheduling to work much longer days, added an extra shuttle vehicle and increased our planned workforce.

It just goes to show there is far more to many projects in this business that meets the eye. Sometimes museums simply don’t have the experience on site for such jobs and on other occasions budget or perceived risk can be the determining factor. It can often be useful to ‘isolate’ an entire project and separate its budget from general museum expenses.

Either way, out-sourcing looks here to stay. The challenge for museums is in finding the right partner, with the right experience, to ensure standards remain high.

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