Monday, 29 October 2018

Australasian Registrars Conference: Duration and Dimension - Day Two

What do you mean the artwork is no longer approved for exhibition?!

Even though it was a gloriously sunny day, probably better suited to sitting by the river than in a darkened lecture theatre, I was excited to return to Melbourne Museum for day two of Duration and Dimension, the Australasian Registrars Committee’s two-day conference looking at all things digital and time-based. The speakers on day one had been engaging, funny, and generously shared their experiences (both good and bad) of working with time-based media, and day two promised more of the same.

While day one had been full of practical advice on how to manage time-based media, many of the presentations of day two focused on case studies. As a time-based media newbie, this really helped to cement what I’d learned the previous day and demonstrate how these things could be put into practice.

A selection of the case studies will be added to the UKRG website as a separate post, but one of the ones I found most interesting came from Alexandra Nichols at the Met in New York. In 2012, the Met had acquired You the Better by artist Erica Beckman, a single channel video artwork made in 1983. In 2017, the Met contacted the artist, who said the work that had been acquired was out of date and was not approved for exhibition. A registrarial nightmare (and one I’m pretty sure will now feature on the list of things which make me wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night). Further discussion with the artist revealed that there were now three versions of the work that were approved for exhibition: a theatre-based presentation (which was how the work was originally presented), a digital projection with strict guidance on how the room should be laid out, and an installation-based presentation. The version the Met had purchased was no longer approved for exhibition as the film had since been remastered. Fortunately, the artist provided the remastered version, but this presents its own challenges, for example, what date should be given on the label text when the work is displayed?

Day two again emphasised the importance of collaboration. As well as registrars and conservators, we heard from an AV manager, a solicitor, and a university lecturer who is also an established artist working with video and installation. The other big takeaway from across both days was don’t be afraid to try. As registrars, we often feel pressure to instantly know all the answers, but the conference emphasised that it is ok to say ‘I don’t know’, to seek advice from others (both internally and externally), and to try different approaches, as long as these are done in collaboration with the artists (or preserving the artist’s intent), and with colleagues, and meticulously documented (obviously!)

The conference closed in the best way – with a presentation of a selection of recently digitised and wonderfully dated adverts from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, thanks to Sarah Davy at Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision.

Overall, the conference was fantastic experience, and one that has left me buzzing with new ideas. I’m hugely grateful to UKRG, and Blackwall Green, for making it possible for me to attend, and would be happy to chat with anyone wanting to hear about anything from the conference in more detail – just drop me an email at

Written by Flora Flyes, Assistant Registrar Museum of London, who attended the arcs conference in 2018, Melbourne 3-6th October 2018 after receiving an international bursary from UKRG

This bursary has been made possible by the generosity of Blackwall & Green

Australasian Registrars Conference: Duration and Dimension - Day One

A Head of Conservation, a Digital Systems Manager, an Assistant Curator, and a Time-Based Media Conservator walk into a lecture theatre…  

I feel the need to start this blog with a bit of a confession (or maybe a caveat): I am not technologically minded. Beyond ‘turn it off and on again’, I’m not very good with computers, and I’ve also never worked with time-based media. So, with all this in mind, I was a little bit nervous as I approached day one of ‘Duration and Dimension’, a two-day conference organised by the Australasian Registrars committee looking at all things digital and time-based.

I needn’t have worried. Seb Chan, the keynote speaker, gave an impressive introduction to the wide-ranging digital projects he had worked on (if you haven’t checked out the Cooper Hewett’s Collections Online, where you can browse using a variety of factors, including colour, do it now!). I particularly liked his question ‘If every object was digitised, online, and addressable, how might we train visitors to use the building differently?’ Digitisation for digitisation’s sake is not the right approach – it must have a purpose, and this should be built into any digitisation projects.

All the talks were fascinating, but the one that probably most caught my attention on day one (and resulted in pages and pages of notes) was the presentation from the team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. One of the key messages of the conference was the need for cross departmental collaboration, and this presentation demonstrated this perfectly. Delivered by the AGNSW Head of Conservation, Digital Systems Manager, Assistant Curator, and Time-based Art Conservator, their presentation gave an in depth look into how the AGNSW had overhauled the way that time-based media collections were thought about and managed, and the resulting policies, documents and processes. Time-based artworks have different considerations to your standard oil painting, and by building these in to the acquisitions process at an early stage, this can relieve pressure when it comes to installation, and offers a great way to build relationships with artists, which can be key when it comes to the long-term preservation of time-based media. Time-based artworks are experiential as well as physical, and the systems that AGNSW put in place help to ensure that this is captured at the point of acquisition. How does the artist view their work, both now and in the future? And what is permitted to change?

Other talks covered the complexities of shipping time based artworks across the world when there isn’t a universal understanding of what constitutes ‘art’, practical considerations for long term preservation of both physical carriers (the VHS tape or memory stick that the work originally came on) and digital files, and great examples of how different institutions manage their information relating to time-based media (I am particularly jealous of SFMOMA’s internal Wikipedia for artworks, which allows them to capture narrative information each time the work is displayed and allows different departments to contribute – a great example of collaboration, and also sharing the burden of documentation!)

Written by Flora Flyes, Assistant Registrar Museum of London, who attended the arcs conference in 2018, Melbourne 3-6th October 2018 after receiving an international bursary from UKRG

This bursary has been made possible by the generosity of Blackwall & Green

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

UKRG event: It’s Good To Talk – Sharing Training and Development Ideas

Following group discussion at the UKRG CPD day, 6 July 2018 Cinema Museum;

On a very, very hot afternoon, UKRG members were welcomed by the Cinema Museum for their annual CPD event. The aim of the day was to share personal experiences of development opportunities and to share what resources and courses were available.
After hearing presentations form several speakers, the UKRG members were asked to split into groups and discuss with their fellow Registrars ‘What makes good CPD and what goes wrong?’. Also, they were asked for suggestions for future actions to be taken by UKRG to improve their training offer. I have summarised the results below, with some future actions. 
Summary of Discussions:
  • Practical, hands-on training and scenario/problem solving is more effective (Momart airport security training quoted as a good example)
  • Use in-house training opportunities – shadowing, across the floor, anecdotes
  • Training notes or manual limits a loss of knowledge, can be referred to
  • Use feedback as a way to inform future training
  • Specialist training offered by large organisations can benefit smaller organisations with more generic posts
  • Training can be too generic or too niche – need clear guidance for course/event content
  • Mandatory attendance for non-relevant subjects
  • Quality of training – Train the Trainer plays a vital role, the trainer has to be good, and have specialist/practical knowledge
  • Quality of training – draw from real life experiences
  • Cost and time can be prohibitive
  • Placements with legal experts
  • Make time after training to ‘unpack’ new knowledge
  • Cross training across organisations to share colleague’s skills
  • Consider training outcomes
  • MA and Museum Studies courses required for jobs, but not always put into practice
  • Break out of specialist areas and learn from other areas – interdepartmental learning

Actions to be taken from suggestions and comments:
  • UKRG to send CPD email alert, same as the job email alert
  • On membership list add specialist knowledge/experience to signpost expertise to membership

Future actions to be considered by Committee and next Development Officer:
  • E-learning podcasts
  • Whatsapp Members Group
  • Job swap or secondments network scheme (nationally/internationally) Museums/Galleries/Shippers
  • More UKRG bursaries like the joint one with IAL, to attend expensive courses such as CLORE
  • Networking and soft skills events
  • Making sure Registrar skills are represented on Museum Studies courses

Thank you to everyone who took part.

Written by Lyn Stevens, Registrar, National Museums Scotland and Professional Development Officer, UKRG committee. 

Friday, 24 August 2018

IAL: Law and Ethics: An Introductory Course for Museum Professionals

Institute of Art and Law
Law and Ethics: An Introductory Course for Museum Professionals
21st – 22nd June 2018 Edinburgh

The National Galleries of Scotland were delighted to host this keenly anticipated two day IAL course - the first held in Scotland - and a great opportunity for collections management professionals unable to access the London-based IAL Diploma in Law and Collections Management. This intensive course aimed to cover the most essential topics of the Diploma, focussing on intellectual property and collections on day one, and on the law and ethics of museum acquisitions and contracts on day two.  
Scotland has its own legal system based on a mix of civil and common law traditions, and for me one of the most interesting aspects of the course was that it pinpointed where there were differences. A full report on all the course content is available on the Resources > Top Tips pages of the UKRG website - - but here I am just highlighting the key differences, found most notably in Property Law but also in Contract law.

Differences in the effect of Scots Property Law were considered in relation to scenarios whereby items had entered the collection on deposit or on loan, but the lender could no longer be traced. Possession is an important feature of Scots Property Law, giving rise to a ‘strong presumption’ of ownership, with the onus being on the person claiming ownership to prove their title, compared to English law whereby a person claiming ownership would bring an action in the tort (wrong-doing) of conversion (treating someone else’s property as though you were the owner). It was interesting to consider whether in theory this might give rise to a practical difference, allowing Scottish institutions more freedom to use these types of works in their collections (for example lending, conserving etc).    

A further difference, giving rise to the so-called ‘Scottish Conundrum’, is the operation of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973. Under the Act, positive prescription (whereby a person can gain title following a defined period of ‘open possession’) only applies to heritable property, and in relation to moveable property it is only possible for a person to lose title under negative prescription, following a period of 20 years where ownership has not been exercised by possession, or for example, the existence of a loan agreement. This leads to a situation where title has been lost by the original owner, but not gained by the possessing party. This differs somewhat from the situation in England where it is understood that the original owner of property can lose title (and thus the possessor gains title) 6 years after the relevant act of conversion (which, in certain situations can be the first good faith purchase of the property).  

This lack of absolute certainty of title leaves Scotland at a disadvantage, and in 2015 a consultation on a draft Prescription and Title to Moveable Property (Scotland) Bill was carried out. The intention of the Bill is to introduce positive prescription, with a 20 year time period for moveable property provided the owner has made no attempt to assert ownership and the possessor is in good faith and not acting negligently, with a 50 year period proposed for moveable property lent or deposited where the original owner is untraceable. Whilst being broadly welcomed by museums and galleries, a number of concerns were raised more widely regarding its operation in relation to issues of spoliation and restitution and its interaction with other areas of law, and a further review of comparative law in this area was thought advisable. A recent meeting with Scottish Government indicated that it is likely to return to the Scottish Law Commission for further research and development. 
Although contract law in England and Scotland has developed in a broadly similar trajectory, with shared authorities, there were some key differences to note. In Scots law, consideration is not required for a contract to exist, and a gratuitous promise can be enforced. There were also a number of pieces of Scottish legislation to be aware of:
  • The Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 specifies which contracts must be in writing to be valid, and how a document can be made probative if it has been witnessed.
  • Third Party Rights (Scotland) Act 2017 which came into force 28th February 2018. This Act makes provision for the creation and enforcement of contractual rights in favour of third parties, replacing the common-law rule known as jus quaesitum tertio.  
  • The recent Scottish Law Commission proposals for reforms in the area of contract formation.

Written by Rosalyn Clancey, National Galleries Scotland 

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

UKRG event: Insurance and CPD, Cinema Museum, London

Written following the UKRG event on CPD and Insurance "It's Good to Talk" at the Cinema Museum in London on Friday 6th July 2018.

There is a sense of defiance about an old building nestled between modern flats and high rise living. One of the best things about the members meetings is experiencing different Museums and Galleries, challenging perceptions over what a Museum is and how the role of the registrar fits within modern museums and galleries. Is the biggest challenge explaining to others what registrars do in a modern institution?
The day itself had a really wide breadth of speakers and experiences they are sharing are real.
If you’re wondering about attending a UK Registrars members meeting, I can tell you it’s definitely worth coming along, I find the chance to meet fellow UK Registrar members is so valuable.

Following on from the security theme at the members’ event in York, it was perfect timing to look at insurance during the first half of the day, and I really enjoyed hearing first from Blackwall Green about how a commercial insurer works with museums and galleries. It was particularly applicable where you might be dealing with a high number of loan items, in a temporary exhibition scenario for example or you deal with loan items going out of your institution.
An Absolute Liability Clause (a clause whereby you as borrower will be liable for anything not explicitly covered by your policy) tends to be more common where private lenders are concerned but is also becoming more frequently employed in institutions in Europe, particularly Germany and Austria. 
We can’t completely escape the complexity of getting the right balance of insurance and indemnity, and the three things that really struck me were:
  • Take a practical approach
  • Seek advice where needed (so you need to know when to ask for help!)
  • Blackwell Green can provide support to institutions
  • Make sure there are no gaps in cover, or contradictions
Nickos Gogolos from the V&A gave an update on National Museums applying to use commercial insurance. A piece of work has been undertaken jointly with DCMS, V&A and the Arts Council to gave a practical approach to the application process and discussion is ongoing to explore whether a threshold could be introduced, below which no formal application need be made. DCMS can also assist in advocating for indemnity if required.
The rest of day was devoted to the discussion of CPD opportunities. There is an amazing breadth of CPD opportunities available to the Museum and galleries sector and CPD is something that is very relevant and has real personal resonance as I have recently taken quite a dramatic career detour.
I am studying for a MA in Museum Studies and currently volunteering as a Collections Volunteer at Salisbury Museum documenting the Rex Whistler archives. I have worked for National Trust for 9 years focused mainly in Visitor Engagement with latter roles involving key representative duties, practical conservation and liaising with curatorial teams; it was these areas that I felt most at home with and could contribute most towards in our sector.
Hazel Shorland gave a really useful insight into her experience of applying (with success) for the “2017 Institute of Art & Law Diploma in Law and Collections Management Course” The course itself was delivered over the period of a week with a different theme each day. Practical examples were provided including issues around copyright and ownership, with case studies including Star Wars & Lucas film and Henry Moore’s public sculpture. Lots that can be applied in the role of the registrar.
Fiona Thornton and Cassia Pennington from National Museums Scotland shared their work on the NMS Knowledge Exchange. It has not only strengthened staff and volunteer skills but also looked at the learning and engagement opportunities with collections for different audiences. I was really fascinated by the “Next of Kin” project, it commemorated the centenary of the First World War with a touring exhibition, learning programme and online resources. 
It was really inspiring to hear about the different ways of learning, including the V&A’s learning academy. The programme is well publicised and constantly evolving with a wide range of courses with different funding options. I found it really useful to hear about the process of designing a training course from Malini Balluck. The V&A team gets to know the course participants and work with organisations to produce courses that are in tune with their career paths. It makes for a powerful programme of offerings and enables the V&A to design bespoke packages when required.
I wasn’t aware that Sotherbys offer a training programme so I was intrigued to learn how a commercial organisation offers learning and how it can be utilised in a museum setting. Katie Robson from the Royal Armouries attended the Art Market course, this was largely via online delivery and was fairly flexible. It also included a day in London at Sotherbys institute. The course gave an insight into the links between Museums and auction houses and how the relationships work and the part we play as registrars.
We broke into small groups to discuss our experiences of CPD, and both the group sessions and the remaining talks demonstrated the breadth of training opportunities available across the heritage and cultural sector. One thing that did strike me was how difficult it can be to find the right courses, and also to attend (ie funding and time etc.).
In our small group session there were some common themes about what makes for a really good course including:
  • Well organised in the lead up, on the day and post course
  • Course participants are engaged in the learning experience and willing to share experiences
  • The course delivers what was promised
I always think the acid test of a great course is one that sits in your memory, informs your practise and you feel confident in sharing your learning. A course that delivered that for me was Emergency Salvage training. It was devised by English Heritage, Historic England and National trust. It was delivered by a number of industry professionals including Steve Emery, Fire Safety Adviser for English Heritage. It was well organised and you knew what to expect from the 3 days. It brought together a real mixture of staff and volunteers including Museums, heritage sites, country estates and even an aquarium! We worked with firefighters in a non-emergency situation prior to a simulated salvage exercise at the fire station. We also had time to share experience and also network over dinner. The follow up post course also helped reinforce the learning experience. 
Rachel Coman, student & Collections Volunteer, Salisbury Museum

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

UKRG Event: Security: Be Alarmed_William Brown, Security and GIS

Government Indemnity Scheme, Security requirements and how to meet them.

A write up of the talk given by William Brown, National Security Advisor, arts Council England.

Firstly we started by congratulating William on his 12th anniversary as the NSA, he is longest serving NSA and, from the queues of people around him at tea breaks he certainly seems to be very popular.

I’m sure many of us thought William worked alone, running around the country assessing a whopping 1400+ applications per year. But it turns out William has some colleagues - several of whom he introduced – who cover different areas of the country and have different security specialisms.

After a whistle stop tour of GIS security conditions, William ran through the three most likely risks to museum collections and loans: losses (theft or criminality), damage (deliberate or accidental including consequential), and natural forces (such as fire or flood).

He then discussed examples of the three using some of the most famous UK museum thefts and accidents, including some which had not been fully resolved. The examples covered a wide variety of museum objects, scenarios, personnel, and locations. William also used quite a few “What’s wrong with this photo?” games to get us thinking for ourselves and assessing hidden and obvious risks. William also discussed the ‘at risk' parts of museum buildings – such as copper and lead roofing - which really hit home the point that risk management is not just about the collections. The discussion then moved on to recognising and reporting suspicious activity in the galleries and the importance of this for early detection and deterrent.

At this point, when the audience was getting really paranoid, William talked about how positive actions and professional collaboration can mitigate both immediate and future risks. These simple steps of working together, sharing advice, developing professional skills, and ensuring information is accurate all enable us to work in confidence knowing that our collections and loans will remain safe and secure wherever they may be sent. 

Considering this can sometimes be a depressing subject, William did an excellent job of mediating the “doom and gloom” by focusing on how our everyday actions can have the most positive impact.

Joanne CS Smith, Registrar, Projects, National Trust.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

UKRG Event: Security: Be alarmed_UKRG facilities reports

A write up of the talk given by Carol Warner, Manager, Government Indemnity Scheme and Sanne Klinge, Collection Registrar, Tate.

UKRG facilities reports and supplements are intended for all museums and galleries as standard documents, and we are using them all the time. They list general requirements and are the basis of information needed when negotiating loans. Carol Warner and Sanne Klinge spoke about the background, purpose and use of UKRG Facilities reports and an introduction to a proposed review.

Carol refreshed our minds about what they are and what they cover; providing information about security, fire protection, environmental conditions, the borrowing museum’s practices, display details as well as general practical information. She reminded us that the reports should be regarded as a serious declaration as they are required to be signed and dated at the point of production. They also often form the basis for the National Security adviser’s (William Brown) reports and recommendations.

There are other known report formats such as the American model; however these hold different types of information and are not fulfilling our criteria so require additional questions to be asked of the borrower.

Sanne Klinge is heading up the process for reviewing and potentially changing the current UKRG reports. It has been some time since a serious revision and for this to be successful it will require effort and input from Registrar colleagues. The review will happen in the following stages:

Stage 1: A short survey will be sent to UKRG membership to gather feedback to identify key areas for improvement. The UKRG committee, Carol Warner and William Brown have already provided their views. The survey is due to go live in spring/summer 2018 – so please keep an eye out for this and respond.

Stage 2: A working group will be formed to discuss the survey results. If you want to be part of the working group let Sanne know. Other colleagues and stakeholders will be contacted for their input.

Stage 3: Implementation of changes. Some changes can probably be changed very quickly but other processes might take longer.

The length of the process is unknown and will be dictated in part by the results of the general survey. Areas for consideration: is there duplication in the reports or do we require more information? Should reports be consolidated or new reports created? Should the design and layout be changed?

Comments from colleagues in the room included having term definitions or glossary to accompany the reports; having facilities questions translated into other languages; making facilities reports more efficient to save our workloads; creating a standard that could potentially be used across other European or World institutions.

It would be fantastic to have a large involvement from the Registrar’s community so voices from all different areas of the sector can be heard.

Christina Gernon, Ashmolean Museum, Collections Registrar