Friday, 4 August 2017

A Day in the Life - Sara Kellett, Head of Museums and Heritage, Crown Fine Art

Early mornings remind me why living 10minutes away from work is a complete blessing. One podcast and a brief walk later I arrive at our loading bay where 2 of our techs are making coffee and waiting for a courier to arrive - last night one of our vehicles collected works ahead of an early start this morning and they're getting ready for a long day driving to the Netherlands. By 7:00am the courier has arrived, her suitcase is in the cab, the final works are loaded and with a final coffee/croissant for the road the team are on their way. I head to my desk and open emails - the estimates I requested earlier in the week from US agents have arrived, perfect. It might seem productive to come in early ahead of the office getting busy but in reality it just means Gavan and I have coffee and catch up - Gavan heads up our galleries team so he fills me in on what his team are working on at the moment. A commercial gallery are visiting later in the week to discuss a project he’s co-ordinating and they're loaning a lot of works to an upcoming exhibition I’m working on so I make a note to be available to say hi. 

Everyone else starts to arrive in the office and the flurry of calls from our technicians updating us on terrible London traffic begins. One of our first jobs for the morning is a private address and someone has parked their luxury car in the middle of the road causing chaos, our technicians sit tight and we check in with the clients this will effect over the upcoming couple of hours without trying to make this sound too ludicrous a reason for a delay. It's Tuesday today so we leave this with operations to monitor and head to our weekly team meeting. We’ll chat through what we're working on, recent feedback, distribute some new projects and discuss the upcoming week. As ever after the meeting my to do list is looking significantly longer than before. 

After lunch Meredith has met with one of our technical project managers and updates me on a current exhibition she's coordinating, the works are all large and need to go up a large staircase when we deliver. A few ideas discussed and she's back off to the lenders again to discuss the method statement for moving the works up the staircase further.  

The vehicle that left this morning for the Netherlands is making good time so I call the venue - we'll still be there around 4pm to unload. Other good news of the day is that the owner of the parked car has returned. Hurrah!

All estimates from our team are double checked before being sent out so Tony and I look through one I drafted yesterday - Tony highlights a couple of my tying errors (to my annoyance) and we chat about a possible alternative routing to my proposal. We can't contact the lender so we both agree the route proposed is the most likely, but include cost for alternative routings/notes on other thoughts and yet another estimate from me is accompanied by a small essay of notes.

I go back to my inbox, reply to some more emails, make some more calls (as ever talk too much) and check my calendar. Wednesday is our day for 45minute training, I'm scheduled to lead the session tomorrow and following on from our refresher training at the airport a couple of weeks ago its courier based so I gather the courier information I've been saving and print everything out ready. Somehow its gone 5pm so I check everyone is on track to leave in the next hour – remarkably everyone is. The techs delivering in the Netherlands ring me to say they’ve offloaded, the vehicle around town is back too so I call it a day and try to remember what I said I’d get from Sainsburys for dinner!        


I May be Some Time: Caring for our Heritage in Antarctica

Camilla Nichol
Chief Executive
UK Antarctic Heritage Trust

It is almost 250 years since Captain James Cook set out from Whitby in search of the southern continent. Since then and even before, man has had a fascination with the great white continent – it has presented the greatest challenges of endurance, survival, science and exploration.

[Fig 1. Captain Scott at the South Pole]

The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust was established in 1993 with ambitions to ensure the legacy of past human endeavour in Antarctica was secured for future generations. This work continues today through the management of six historic sites on the Antarctic Peninsula and through our support of others Polar heritage organisations across the world.
The six sites we care for represent different periods in British Antarctic involvement and science on the Antarctic Peninsula since 1944. They are designated under the Antarctic Treaty and we are obligated to protect them from damage, removal or destruction.

[Fig 2 Base A, Port Lockroy, Goudier Island, Antarctica 1944-62]

Conserving Antarctic Huts
Managing historic sites in general is complicated, time consuming, resource intensive and requires expertise, judgement and compromise. Managing heritage in Antarctica is all of those things tenfold!  These wooden huts are placed 9,000 miles away from the UK in the middle of a frozen wasteland on harshest continent on earth. You can only access them via ship, and getting to them can be difficult and at times impossible.

Port Lockroy is the most visited site in Antarctica. As well as the museum, Port Lockroy also has a functioning Post Office and gift shop. The museum and its artefacts tell the story of those who lived and worked in this isolated wilderness.

 [Fig 3 museum display at Port Lockroy]

The other sites are significantly harder to get to and are unsupervised. This means that conserving them can be much more problematic. We do what we can to stabilise the structures and make sure that they are weatherproof as possible to prevent them from deteriorating and to help protect the artefacts within. We want to keep them standing so that they can be around for future generations because all of these sites are irreplaceable and once lost will be gone forever.

The Challenges
There are a number of challenges we need to overcome to get this work done each season. Working in such cold conditions means that work is inevitably slower, fatigue can set in more quickly, fingers become clumsier and solvents will cure glacially slowly. So progress is never achieved at speed and a season’s work can sometimes seem paltry.

[Fig 4 Annual maintenance of the windows at Port Lockroy]

Despite the Antarctic’s incredibly low rainfall, damp is a significant problem and mould in the more northerly sites can be a problem. Similarly, achieving good ventilation to dry out timbers comes at the expense of weathertightness, as any gap will be severely exploited by wind driven snow and ice particles during the winter resulting in build-up of ice inside the buildings.  

[Fig 5 Build-up of windblown snow in Base W, Detaille Island]

The long daylight hours and the strong UV levels in Antarctica also are a severe problem for many artefacts and the damaging effects of UV are soon apparent.
Normal museum pests are, mercifully, not such a problem, but other wildlife can prove destructive – gentoo penguins nest very close to, on and under buildings and are not shy about where they leave their waste. Fur seals can be both dangerous and clumsy, are curious, and often force their way inside structures.

[Fig 6 a common museum pest in Antarctica]

Who is it for?
The primary audience for our heritage sites are the tourists who visit, however we champion Antarctic heritage through many other forums so that it can inspire people all over the world with the stories of exploration and heroism that have come from Antarctica.  
Port Lockroy gets around 18,000 visitors a year. The other sites, due to their precarious locations are visited by many fewer people.

[Fig 7 Visitors at Port Lockroy]

Most people will never visit our museums, however, the stories they carry can resonate with people all over the world. Through our grants programme we support polar exhibitions and galleries across the world and engage with people online through a plethora of digital media. We share stories of the buildings, the animals, and the people who lived there.
So, Antarctic conservation is certainly fraught with difficulties, but needs to be conducted with the same rigour, thoughtfulness and insight as any conservation project in more temperate climes. 

Find out more about us, our work and our grants programme at

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Tales of an Expat Registrar - by Brandi Pomfret

For those who I haven’t met yet, I’m Brandi, and I’m an British-American Collection Manager and Registrar who, after being born and raised in the US, moved last year to London in order to try my hand at the art world on this side of the pond. 

I’m sure all Registrars across the world can name the ways in which we are similar, despite our geographic locations – arranging transport of loans and exhibitions, confirming the packing of artworks are up to a universal standard, and, of course, metaphorically holding the hand of panicked couriers – but what has struck me since relocating is how different we are as well.
The easiest and most obvious is of course our terms for items of our daily life.  Growing up with family members from opposite sides of the ocean taught me at an early age of things like pram/carriage, pictures/movies, and aubergine/eggplant, but not until I had worked in galleries and museums was I introduced to Registrar-specific differences like skate/dolly, lorry/truck, and boot/trunk.

Non-surprisingly this has been the easiest hurdle to overcome, whereas perhaps the most complicated would be the role of the Registrar (and note for ease I will include Exhibition Managers in this term “Registrar” as well, since in my vernacular it references working with collections or exhibitions).
In the US, the Registrar is, among other things, responsible for all condition checking and packing of works.  Though I and my former colleagues are used to being questioned by UK lenders as to why the Registrar (rather than Conservator) would be condition checking a work with them, the full extent of how much Registrar responsibility is allocated to Conservators in this country had never fully sunk in.  I even heard recently of private collectors arranging a house move with a Conservator rather than a Registrar; having them arranging the packing, shipping and relocation into storage is truly baffling to my US senses.  It’s perhaps for this reason that I’m finding less occurrences of contract Registrars working on museum exhibitions, and with private collectors and foundations, whereas it is near standard in the US.
In my now 7 months of direct experience with UK trucking, I can assuredly say that couriers here are blessed with their required overnight stops (as opposed to our 3 day non-stop journeys from California to New York), as well as having lorries driven by members of the company you contracted for the job, not the usual husband and wife (and sometimes dog) teams you get in the US!

I doubt the idea of National collections not insuring their works will ever cease to give me heart palpitations, especially when lending between institutions, and that’s not to mention the concept of “non-national” and “designated collections”.  In the US, all collections are commercially insured, even those we deem our “national” collections.  Our other option - US Indemnity - is a lengthy, arduous process that occurs twice a year for exhibitions, not for temporary deposits or long loans in.  Please be kind to those US Registrars asking you seemingly crazy questions while they work on their applications, because they’re well over 100 pages and I can guarantee that no one enjoys doing them.  I’d take a UK indemnity application in a heartbeat compared to the alternative, though in a similar vein, the UK’s export licenses (for those works not covered by OIEL) are complicated and completed by Registrars, whereas the customs brokers complete these on your behalf in the US.  So perhaps it all balances out in the end!

At the recent UKRG conference in Edinburgh, we listened to a talk about changes in property laws, and I was amazed to hear that the UK didn’t have a procedure in place for deaccessioning portions of collections.  The United States has long standing laws governing museums and their collections, with specific information on deaccessioning (  In the past decade, many states have individually addressed the issue of undocumented and abandoned property as well, outlining their requirements for disposing of these works which have long languished in institutions. It is a complicated process – many times involving posting ads in newspapers and strict timelines for attempting to locate owners – but it does exist.
I’m sure I could expound endlessly on my experiences thus far, but in all honesty, I feel I’m only just beginning to understand the intricacies of working in this amazing country.  My friends and colleagues here in the UK love to laugh about some of my American phrases (I apologise now to anyone I’ve confused or bemused by “reaching out” to you via email), but I’m grateful because each time it serves to remind me how even the smallest differences register to a Registrar. One thing I know for sure: the US and UK are better places because of us.

Brandi Pomfret is the owner of Echelon Arts Management and currently a maternity cover Collection Registrar at the National Gallery.

Friday, 2 June 2017

"Fashion and Style at National Museums Scotland: Acquiring Contemporary Fashion", Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: "Fashion and Style at National Museums Scotland: Acquiring Contemporary Fashion", Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland

In the realm of acquisitions most of us are familiar with gifts, bequests, and purchases from dealers or auction houses. When it comes to expanding a collection of modern fashion, there are other, less travelled avenues into which you can delve, each with their own unique challenges and unusual procedures.

The closing talk of the event was given by Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland. With a collection of international significance and the third largest collection in the UK, expanding the modern part of the museum’s textile and fashion collection has required a more creative approach in the pursuit of new items.

Going directly to designers is one of the ways in which Georgina has sought out new pieces for the collection. Approaching the designers in this way and developing the relationships with them has led to the museum acquiring better pieces, styling them faithfully with the help of the designers for display. Previously they had more access to watered down versions of catwalk pieces, but by heading directly to the designers they have been able to acquire better examples of their work and enhance the collection. However in some cases the museum has missed potential acquisitions because of the difficulties in contacting the designers, competing for their attention during busy periods in the run up to fashion weeks. Knowing that the designers work to schedules six months in advance and understanding when fashion weeks fall can help to ensure you don’t miss out.

One of the acquisition channels that many of us would be familiar with on a personal rather than professional level are websites such as Ebay and Net-a-Porter. For the acquisition of shoes Net-a-Porter has provided an invaluable resource for the museum, yet it has also presented challenges regarding payments and invoicing, as well as use of images. As a large retail brand it has been difficult to find a suitable contact to help resolve these issues, and required a lot of perseverance on the part of the curators. Ebay, despite their deadlines for bids and the risk of being outbid at the very last minute has also provided some key acquisitions. Items can however be hard to authenticate, and with our increasing emphasis on due diligence this can be a concern for registrars.

Whilst these new means of acquiring items for the collection are still being established the museum’s approach has had to be flexible at times, but it has also been important and possible to uphold the practices and procedures that the registrars strive to maintain. With shipments, for example, designers would pack the items as they would for a customer. The museum found a compromise by sourcing a courier company that also works with museums in order to please both parties. As Georgina concluded, it is important not to lose sight of the museum processes and that the registrars become your best friends at this time, guiding you through what can be done to get these items safely into your care.

Francesca Sidhu, Exhibitions Manager, Victoria and Albert Museum

"Legal Title Law Reforms for Museum Property and Financially Motivated Sales", Professor Janet Ulph, School of Law, University of Leicester

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: Legal Title Law Reforms for Museum Property and Financially Motivated Sales
Professor Janet Ulph, School of Law, University of Leicester

Janet has been working with DCMS and the Scottish Government on reforms that could make it easier to establish Legal Title for objects in museum collections. “Orphan” objects with little to no documentation are protected under the Interference with Goods Act 1977. There are legal and ethical risks to museums or galleries if they dispose of objects under Possessory Title.

The Prescription and Title to Moveable Property (Scotland) Bill would allow museums to gain Legal Title if the original owner or successor has not made a claim in a 50 year period and cannot be contacted. This period is important as it complies with the Human Rights Act and does not interfere with an individual’s right to their property or possessions. There is strong support for this bill and it may be amended to include clauses for restitution claims, from Holocaust survivors for example.

There is similar consideration for reform in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Cultural Collections Bill. A 30 year period may be preferable as it is possible that long-serving members of staff would have some memory of the arrival of the objects or possible contacts.

Janet presented examples of financially motivated disposals to illustrate some of the legal and ethical issues. One case study concerned the sale of Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman by Tower Hamlets. Purchased by London County Council in 1962, the land the statue was on passed to Greater London Council, then Bromley Council, before finally being sold to Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets lent the sculpture to Yorkshire Sculpture Park from 1997 and made the decision to sell in 2012.  Tower Hamlets had not had Legal Title to Draped Seated Woman; that had remained with Bromley Council as the sculpture was not a permanent fixture on the land. The Judge ruled that Legal Title rested with Tower Hamlets after committing a tort of conversion by lending to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Bromley Council had not registered any objections or claims in the six years following the loan, as required under the Limitation Act 1980, and while the sale was not necessarily ethical, it remained legal.

Janet also presented a case study of the attempted sale by Kirklees Council of Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II (valued at £60 million). The original conditions of the acquisition prevented the council from selling; as a gift from the Contemporary Art Society, any attempts at disposal would result in the Council losing ownership.

The MA Code of Ethics does not prohibit disposals entirely, but there are restrictions. The Royal Academy was permitted to sell a Leonardo da Vinci cartoon (The Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Anne) to the National Gallery in 1962 as this kept the work in the public domain and continued to serve long-term public interest. The disposal of the Sekhemka statue by Northampton council in 2014 was not considered to be ethical as it was financially motivated and sold to a private individual outside the UK; Northampton Museum lost its Accredited status in this instance.

Determining Legal and Possessory Title can be more easily resolved if there is supporting documentation. The Prescription and Title to Moveable Property Bill and the Cultural Collections Bill should simplify the process whereby museums and galleries can gain Legal Title over those objects.

Amy Brown, Assistant Registrar, Science Museum

"Acquisitions, exhibitions and getting copyright right", Fredric Saunderson, Intellectual Property Specialist for National Library of Scotland

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: Acquisitions, exhibitions and getting copyright right Fredric Saunderson, Intellectual Property Specialist for National Library of Scotland (NLS)

Fred introduced us to the NLS collection situated in Edinburgh with a new site opening soon in Glasgow. The collection is comprised of c. 40 million items including eg: 5 million books, 8 million manuscripts as well as c.4000 new items entering the collection a day primarily through the legal deposit scheme. His role at NLS manages policy, understanding and communication around copyright for work in their collections.

Firstly Fred discussed how he has developed the NLS website information on copyright in order to be able to communicate more clearly its application to the collection.  The NLS website page on copyright is a fantastic resource:
He explained that one of the key areas around understanding copyright is in fact the exceptions – such as “fair dealing” where users need to really understand the parameters around the concept of “fair use”.  

Another of the areas he has been working on with NLS teams is the development of procedures and documentation around new acquisitions and deposits. He shared an example of a detailed flow chart which can be used to ascertain what kind of rights can be secured dependant on the nature of the deposit and the rights the Copyright Holder is willing to assign.

Fig 1. Acquisitions copyright process flow chart.
Photograph from Frederic Saunderson presentation at UKRG event 21 April 2017

Fred then discussed some of the ways in which cultural organisations can enable a richer visitor engagement with material, in particular photography in exhibitions, whilst trying to ensure respect of copyright parameters. His approach gave real food for thought – in September 2016 the NLS changed their exhibition visitor photography messaging style from (a) “no photography” (fig 2 on left) to (b) “Photography encouraged” (fig.2 on right). The new poster style steers the visitor to guidance on copyright, placing the responsibility in the visitor’s hands and signalling a change in attitude to address the changing way people engage whilst trying to clarify the boundaries of image use.

Fig 2. Two visitor photography posters –
LEFT: a) Traditional NLS style “No Photography” messaging
RIGHT: b) New NLS “Photography encouraged” poster messaging
Photograph from Frederic Saunderson presentation at UKRG event 21 April 2017

Fred has also been playing around with possible ideas for further simplification of the messaging (shown below in fig 3.) to make the Do’s and Don’ts even easier to quickly grasp (nb: poster not in use, just an ideas document). He also talked around the approach taken in their Reading Rooms where visitors sign up to similar responsibilities and clear information is shared on camera types for safety of the works etc.

Fig 3. Fred’s ideas around possible development of “Photography encouraged” poster
Photograph from Frederic Saunderson presentation at UKRG event 21 April 2017

There were some very interesting questions in the Q&A – for example one question focussed on the risk of lost income generation if photography is allowed and whilst Fred agreed there was a risk he suggested it would be considered low and it was better to police that risk with clear information on copyright and responsibility. However he also empathised that if an institution decided to go down this route that each exhibition might have to be on a case by case basis dependant on content, lender requirements etc in order to honour agreements.

Eloise Stewart, Exhibitions Manager, National Portrait Gallery

"Update on Museums & Galleries Tax Relief", Alison Turnbull, Head of Research & Development, Museums Galleries Scotland and Janice Slater, Head of Collections Management, National Galleries Scotland

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: Update on Museums & Galleries Tax Relief, Alison Turnbull, Head of Research & Development, Museums Galleries Scotland and Janice Slater, Head of Collections Management, National Galleries Scotland

Kicking off the Friday afternoon conference was the rather heavy topic of tax incentives, sometimes referred to as “exhibition tax credit”. My first thought was that I was grateful this was the first session not the last! As the session begun it was delivered in a nice double act by Alison and Janice who were part of a consultancy on this incentive before it was released in April 2017 for parliamentary approval. Essentially, this tax scheme allows museums to claim back a percentage of their core exhibition activity costs from HMRC up to a ceiling of £80,000 for non-touring exhibitions and £100,000 for touring exhibitions.

The tone was light and conversational. The two speakers did a brilliant job of breaking down the rather complex topic, extracting the key paragraphs from the full HMRC document and reading out key areas of phrasing. It was an information-heavy talk, but to be honest, there is no other way to deliver detailed outlines on new schemes. Each section was delivered in bitesize chunks with a succinct and insightful PowerPoint summary.

It quickly became clear that much of the information about this new scheme had been rolled out to Heads of Finance and Directors of institutions, but Alison and Janice made it very clear the importance of the implementers and exhibition organisers having a good awareness and knowledge of this scheme. As registrars our thorough documentation skills are a matter of pride, but there was a useful point about extracting the financial data into a useable and easy format to facilitate the application process for colleagues in other departments.

Much of the session was dedicated to discussing ideas around training and information-sharing events across the registration sector. There was a general consensus that these would be welcomed and people were invited to send ideas of how this could work to both Alison ( and Janice (, as well as general questions about the scheme at this stage. The real engagement and commitment from those involved in the initial consultancy seems second-to-none, and the whole room was interested to be involved in any training.

For museum professionals, once the project is rolled out serious work will begin to make the scheme doable for the widest variety of museums across the sector. Although both the scheme and the potential CPD events are in very early stages it seems this is a great potential tool for increasing the affordability and calibre of shows for a broader range of museums and galleries.

Interestingly, this bill has now been deferred at parliament until after the upcoming general election to allow the major parties to offer comments and discuss amendments. I feel much of the museum sector will be watching with baited breath, but what this means in real terms is that we may not see any benefits from the scheme until 2018. So watch this space….!

Joanne Smith, Tate