What did the Touring Exhibitions Group’s survey tell us about touring in the London region?

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The Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG) is a non-profit organisation that supports museums and galleries across the UK and beyond to tour exhibitions. It believes touring is key mechanism for ensuring the resilience of high-quality, temporary exhibition programmes in times of greater austerity.

Over the summer period in 2015 TEG conducted a survey – the first that had been undertaken in 10 years – to record a national picture of touring activity, from the perspectives of both those who are currently engaged, and those that are not. The programme was funded by Arts Council England’s Resilience Fund. Key discoveries included that:

  • Organisations currently engaged in developing touring exhibitions, and those considering their development in the future, recognise and value the wider benefits of touring – including profile raising and audience development – above the generation of income or off-setting of costs.
  • 55% of exhibitions touring within the UK attract hire fees of under £3,000.
  • The greatest proportion of venues hiring touring exhibitions is in the North (79%); the fewest is in the Midlands (27%). 
  • Most long-term experience of touring exhibitions is held by national and local authority museums, many of whom have been touring for more than 10 years.

The last of these findings although not specific to London, by dint of most national museums being located in City, has an implication for the region. As local authority budgets are eroded, regional museums will look increasingly to nationals for touring expertise and experience. This brings challenges because of the vastly differing scales and capacities, but also reveals opportunities for the dissemination of experience and sharing of objects, which of course is an increasingly important element of their remit.

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Networking and sharing touring exhibitions information at the TEG Marketplace. © Robert W Mason / TEG

The overriding conclusion to be drawn from the research from a national perspective was that museums touring exhibitions within the UK are not making a profit, and often are only recovering a proportion of their costs. This is infers that:

  • Many venues are not taking advantage of the opportunities for fundraising that touring activity can offer, given the support for partnership activity available through funders.
  • Venues are not working in partnership from the beginning of touring projects; when they do so, this enables a more even distribution of costs between partners and greater fundraising leverage.

But what did the survey reveal about organisations in the London region and what implications do these findings have for funding, training support and partnership building? The following trends were identified in the London data:

  • A higher than average – 90% – of venues currently touring, do so to raise their organisational profile. And a higher than average – 90% – of venues not currently touring, are interested in developing touring exhibitions in the future, to increase their audience.

These results are indicative of the need for organisations to demonstrate the reach and impact of their exhibitions in terms of visitor numbers and the role that touring can play in supporting this. Visitors to touring exhibitions can be counted by the originating venue, so are a key way of illustrating that access and visitor engagement objectives are being met. The effectiveness of this work is demonstrated by the British Museum’s (BM) visitor figures for 15/16 which saw approximately 6.7 million on-site visits and 7.7 million off-site engagements with BM objects. The statistic speaks of London venues’ work to take objects to audiences outside their venue.

But what happens when you remove the data concerning the national museums from these statistics? As might be anticipated, the picture shifts, and off-setting costs, accessing funding that would not otherwise be available and working in partnership become more significant reasons for engaging with touring.

  • A lower than average number of venues hire-in exhibitions; 22% of responding venues in London – the largest percentage by region – stated that their organisational strategy does not allow for the hire of touring exhibitions.

This is an interesting trend and one that perhaps speaks of a general reputational challenge touring exhibitions can face; that they will not be as good as in-house exhibitions, and that receipt of a touring show undermines an internal curatorial team. If touring is recognised as partnership, and given the quality of material available to hire or collaborate in producing, neither of these fears hold true. One inspirational example to support this is the work of the Bulldog Trust, whose annual exhibitions bring regional collections to the City, demonstrating the potential for co-operation, and for London to take in exhibitions, and as well as sending them out.

  • 100% of venues not currently working in partnership would like to work in partnership to tour in the future.

This result speaks of the openness of London venues to embracing partnership working; the result is unanimous, regardless of the scale of the organisation.

In the survey reasons given for not working in partnership to-date included:

  • It requires more time and greater resources/staff capacity
  • The challenge of finding partners
  • The potential reputational risk and the fear of conflicting opinions.

There is a call to action here, to support London venues to work in partnership to tour. TEG will acknowledge this in its future programme planning, and would welcome partners in undertaking this.

The Economics of Touring Exhibitions Survey Report as well as a Recommendations for Practice guide and a Toolkit – Developing an Economic and Production Strategy for Touring Exhibitions – all are available to download www.teg.org.uk

The last subsidised, London-based, Economics of Touring Exhibitions training seminar will be held at the South Bank Centre on 3rd October 2016; visit the events page of the TEG website for more information or to book.

Charlotte Dew, Researcher, Touring Exhibitions Group

charlotte@teg.org.uk

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