Wednesday, 21 October 2015

AGM Event: Registrars 2.0 – Report on the talk: Accessing Collections through Crowdsourcing: lessons from the Orchid Observers project.

Lucy Robinson (Citizen Science Manager, NHM) began by introducing the Darwin Centre and the Citizen Science Programme, which supports volunteer research projects. A Digital Collections Programme is also underway at NHM, a cross-museum programme to transcribe labels and interpret specimens, the goal being 20 million specimens accessible online within 5 years…! So research was undertaken on crowdsourcing, which is the enlisting of an online community to provide direct creation and interpretation of digital data. Many crowdsourcing platforms exist and two were piloted, Herbaria@home - for a ‘Take notes from Nature’ project focusing on accession register transcription, and Zooniverse - which was chosen for the Orchid Observers project.

The opportunities of crowdsourcing were summed up as the potential to showcase collections; the expertise of the crowd; and potential to keep visitors engaged beyond a site visit. The challenges were the choice of platform; the need to scale up for  volume of data whilst still providing a quality experience for crowd visitors; and the additional work involved in integrating sourced data back to the database.

 Kath Castillo (Project Officer (Scientific Communities), NHM) went into detail about the AHRC-funded Orchid Observers project. She explained how a 2011 journal article had explored the effects of global warming by mapping one species of spider orchid over 100 years using historic specimens, showing flowering now 6 days earlier. Inspired by this, Orchid Observers aimed to map 29 species using  140 years of historic museum specimens, 45 years of field records/photographs and new 2015 data – all created and collated via crowdsourcing. At the same time, the communication and collaboration potential of crowdsourcing for citizen scientists was to be assessed.

The project was launched in April 2015 and over a 5-month flowering season, with over 1,000 registered users, they obtained: 31,253 online classifications, 2,250 uploaded images and 1800 field records including 200 new. A talk forum also proved very successful, with users communicating and interacting independently.

Initial data analysis confirms earlier flowering in two species, with much still to explore including temperature data mapping. In terms of process, crowdsourcing was key and a great success, but intensive for staff. 

The talk concluded with confirmation that the project was also great fun for all concerned – with a beautiful smiling bee orchid image to prove it.

In the question session, integration of data back into the main database was confirmed as a significant task but the Zooniverse metadata should be downloadable directly into EMu. However, the Smithsonian’s system has been recently redesigned to include a direct interface with EMu, and so may in fact prove a better platform long term, with this specific feature.

Lucy and Kath also expanded on data quality control. In this case, a mainly known pool of users allowed for a high level of trust, but the process can be tailored, for example running data through checkers as well as the initial transcriber, with disagreement resulting in a flag to a curator.

All in all fascinating and informative! With thanks to the UKRG and sponsors for the travel bursary that made my attendance possible. Fi Hitchcock, Exhibitions Coordinator, Norfolk Museums Service.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Thoughts on Mark Pajak's 'Create once, publish everywhere' talk at Registrars 2.0, 8 October 2015

I've not yet spoken to anyone working in museums and galleries who has said 'yeah, it's pretty quiet at the moment, budgets are plentiful and we've got so many staff'', so was looking forward to hearing Mark Pajak speak about the 'create once, publish everywhere' approach that he is working on at Bristol Museums and Galleries.

Firstly I was stunned by the size of the collection, 1.75 million objects, did I hear that right? It brings home the volume of items that we are all working with and why efficient approaches are required!

Mark spoke about the different digital platforms that provide collections information, which all stem from the Collection Management System, such as the online Collection Search and interactives within the display space.

To explore the narrative based structure that Bristol use I delved into the Fine Art collection online and was presented with two narratives: 'Places of Desire' or 'Reality Questioned'. Both tempting, I opted for 'Reality Questioned' which provided me with some interesting exhibition text followed by individual images to click on which contained object information and a gallery label. I really like this after-life of exhibition text and labels as so much time goes into exhibitions and interpretation, to achieve something permanent from them seems a great idea both for institutions and visitors. Another feature that I like is the current location information about the item.

Mark spoke about some of the challenges of the one size fits all approach, such as a notebook that would benefit from a digital page turning rather than a succession of thumb nails. There are also currently no loans online. The next steps in the project are making sure that google is optimised and that social media can be used to share object information.

Where I work at National Museums Scotland, the team are working to get more of the circa 12.4 million items online. This started in 2011 when items in newly opened galleries were put online. We are currently up to 32,200 online records with this number being refreshed on a monthly basis. The 'create once' model has been used in our Photography: A Victorian Sensation exhibition which contains images within gallery interactives, on the online catalogue and in our first ever Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)


1/6 plate heavily tinted ambrotype, depicting a seated man, in a Union case with eight-sided decorated geometric design, unsigned, late 1850s - 1860s
From the Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland
Image © National Museums Scotland
I think the use of social media and digital is extremely exciting but more importantly vital to keep our collections and institutions ever present. The do once, use again approach is one I'll be trying to apply to other areas of my work wherever I can as the quiet moment hasn't arrived yet!

Katie Robson, Assistant Registrar, National Museums Scotland


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Exhibition Review: Savage Beauty at the V&A

Welcome to the first UKRG Culture Club! Every month we will be looking at how Registrars, and the issues we face, influence and are portrayed in popular culture. A registrar’s role, as we all know, has many different guises – the issues we face are commonly reported in the news and media, and find their way into popular culture. This blog will be reviewing exhibitions that catch our eye and reporting on how registration issues are highlighted in pop culture, through literature, film, music and beyond...

Fingers crossed the next Indiana Jones revolves around the documentation issues surrounding the booty he brought back from the Middle East on his adventures...

UKRG Committee would love to hear from you! Please send your own UKRG Culture Club reviews to Becca England, Supporting Officer

To kick things off, Marie Rose, UKRG Events Officer and Project Co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum went and had a look at the V&A's recent retrospective of Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty.

As ever a quick nip over the road from The Natural History Museum to the V&A transports me from a world of taxidermy and glass jars to ornate couture fabulousness. My pilgrimage from the church of natural science to the church of the aesthetic is for the very God-like figure himself: Alexander McQueen and the ‘Savage Beauty’ retrospective exhibition which had previously been on display in New York at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I must admit my knowledge of fashion may be limited - my interests have always sat more within the alt-world having spent much of my youth trawling the markets of Camden in search of baggy jeans and faux-Westwood tartan skirts. However, I have always followed McQueen in awe and fascination for the disturbing and often cruel elements that are so characteristic of his craft.

This exhibition doesn’t disappoint: room after room of collections spanning his career are showcased thematically to give a sense of how his imagination evolved. His gothic influences from Edgar Allen Poe to the Highland Clearances which dominated the Highland Rape collection of 1995 are clear. The Romantic Nationalism room is complete with wooden panels and elaborate chandeliers to create a magical sense of atmosphere. The exhibition therefore makes for a decadent boutique rather than a traditional retrospective, shunning the typical chronological or biographical narrative (the facts we learn about McQueen are confusingly minimal) to bring us back to the superficial; the objects themselves.

This mode of display can be problematic,  particularly when showcased in the central dramatic room ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ with Phillip Treacy headpieces and my particular favourite, the Shaun Leane body armour pieces, crammed from wall to ceiling. This room highlights the tension between the need to showcase his work versus the practicality of the visitor’s viewing experience, you can’t help but feel disassociated from these objects when raised so high you have to crane your neck to see them. This layout, borrowed from the Bowie exhibition, serves to create a physical pedestal for the artist on display - albeit a slightly frustrating experience for the audience. This is echoed again in the minimal interpretation with labels deliberately sparse and tucked away.

Overall this exhibition posits itself as the ultimate decadent couture showroom, highlighting the sheer skill of McQueen’s technique: in always designing from the side, the form’s most awkward angle to make his pieces flattering to all possibilities of the female form and not the a-typical model frame. His work also signifies the female form as haunting, dangerous and romantic with many items embracing natural materials such as feathers and razor clam shells to symbolise woman’s role in nature.

As an exhibition this is nothing short of a success of a summer blockbuster, minimal interpretation and excessive staging aside this does not detract from the focus; the clothes and savage beauty of Alexander McQueen.

How did they do that?

This bemusement goes to the wonderfully hypnotic ghostly apparition of Kate Moss. Her ethereal image is suspended in a glass pyramid using the wonderfully inventive ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ technique - pioneered in the 19th century. This highlights McQueen’s appreciation for the avant-garde. I did wonder how the registrar for the exhibition arranged to borrow this – was the image loaned or the entire technical prop. I also wondered if there were issues with copyright when using Kate Moss’s famous image and if this was leased rather than a straightforward loan given that it comprises of the object, the film and the projection. Overall, I’m amazed at the capabilities of the registrars who brought this wealth of objects together within the exhibition’s highly decorative and engaging set design. For me, the staging was just as important as the objects themselves in presenting the absolute tour de force that was Alexander McQueen.


Aisha Burtenshaw
Registrar, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford

I have been in the Registrars’ Office at the Ashmolean for over 10 years now and if there is one thing that is certain, it is that there is no such thing as a typical day! Each day is hugely varied as I also head up the Touring Exhibitions Department as well as the Registrar’s Office, so I never quite know what to expect. This is probably the reason why I love my job so much!

Today is a prime example of how varied things can be. I started the day with a to-do list mostly comprised of loan agreements to draw up for inward and outward loans, transport quotes to analyse and indemnity applications to complete. I make a cup of tea and settle down to work. After around ten minutes I get a phone call from our events team to say that they have a life-size plastic camel in one of the galleries and can I help to get it out of the loading bay? So I leave my tea to go cold and go and assist with the removal of the camel. Back to the office thirty minutes later and I am ready to get cracking with the loan agreements. An e-mail pings – a new venue would like to display one of our touring exhibitions. Great news, but this means looking at object lists and facilities reports, getting in touch with various colleagues and beginning the arrangements to get this programmed in. This takes much of the morning.

As lunch time approaches, I start to think about maybe leaving the Museum for a bit to take in the dreaming spires of Oxford but at 12:30 another phone call comes in. Christina Gernon, our Assistant Registrar is undertaking a site visit at one of the colleges where we have a number of works on long-term loan. It appears that they had forgotten that a framed textile did not belong to them and they have decided to take it down and leave it propped up against the wall in their dining room. So, lunch forgotten, I make a hasty call to our technicians and a few minutes later I am sat in our van en route to the college on an emergency rescue mission. The textile is quite large and at the top of a narrow, winding staircase. It is immediately apparent that it is too large for our van and will need to be unframed and rolled before returning it to the Museum. Unfortunately, the textiles conservator is on holiday for the next three weeks. So, a quick scout around the college is undertaken and we find an unoccupied office where the textile can be stored until it can be unframed. We manage to get it down the staircase and safely stored away.

Back to the office again, and I try for the third time to get started on the loan agreements. I manage to get half way through the first on my pile and I get another urgent e-mail, this time from an international venue that is due to open one of our touring exhibitions the next day. Their Director has decided he doesn’t like the colour of one of the walls – might we agree to works being deinstalled to allow the wall to be repainted and then reinstalled ready for the private view the next night? I don’t even know where to start with this can of worms, maybe the loan agreements, indemnity applications and transport quotes will have to wait for tomorrow….

 Aisha in action: packing works for loan in Ashmolean’s Transit Store

Aisha’s favourite objects:


Namikawa Yasuyuki Vase with Waterfall over Rocks, metal with cloisonné enamel (EA2002.177) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

“This is one of the very first objects that I handled when I started at the Ashmolean. I love the colours and the simplistic beauty of it”.


Samuel Palmer Self-portrait Black chalk on paper (WA1932.211) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

I find this piece absolutely mesmerizing and I could stare at it for hours. It was one of a number of loans made in my first year here at Ashmolean”.


Shrine of Taharqa Sandstone (AN1936.661) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

“This is the ultimate transport project! This is the largest intact Egyptian building in this country and it was brought to the UK in the 1930s block by block (236 sandstone blocks!), with each block individually wrapped in palm fibres and crated. It was then rebuilt in our galleries”.

Would you like to share a ‘typical’ Day in your Life? We’re always looking for new contributors, so do get in touch with any of the Committee

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Money Matters: Gander & White’s Approach to Estimating and Tendering

Money Matters: UKRG Summer Event July 2015
Gander & White’s Approach to Estimating and Tendering
Jim Grundy, Director of Art Operations, Gander & White Ltd
Amanda Sharp, Divisional Director, Gander & White Ltd

A key part of the Registrar's role in exhibition projects is to advise on transport options, obtain estimates and liaise with shipping agents to ensure loan objects arrive safely, on time and within budget. As Cassia Pennington advised in the preceding talk, “exhibitions are expensive, be realistic about the true cost of transport”. While Cassia spoke about budget planning from a Registrar's perspective, in Gander & White's presentation, Jim Grundy and Amanda Sharp went through how they go about estimating and tendering, what their rates are based on and how we can ensure we get the most accurate indication of costs from shipping agents.

We all know that it costs money to maintain the climate-controlled, fire-rated, secure buildings that we store and display our collections in, that specialist storage systems don't come cheap, and that moving a museum object from A to B can involve complex packing, challenging access, high specification vehicles, multiple technicians, and time. It is not surprising then that when we and our lenders expect the same high museum standards from fine art shipping agents, they incur these costs too and need to factor them into their rates.

In order to provide a full and accurate estimate of transport costs, Jim outlined the minimum information they require from us, ideally with all information presented in a single spreadsheet:
  • Loan or accession number
  • Lender and contact details with address
  • Object details, including artist or maker's name, medium, date, dimensions
  • Packing information
  • Tour venues
  • Courier information

The more specific you can be with your requirements, the more accurate the quote will be. Costs vary significantly if the lender is packing the object, or a museum crate is required; if objects are to be transported by part load or dedicated transport; if there are access restrictions at the lender's premises; if the loan can only be collected or delivered on a specific day or time; if a courier is required or not. So many ifs!

For any details you don't have, it is better that you make the assumptions rather than leaving it up to individual agents. This creates a level playing field and enables you to compare the estimates 'like for like'.

Depending on the procurement processes in your organisation and the size and value of the contract, you may need to request quotes by email or through a formal tender process. Amanda explained how Gander & White responds when a framework agreement is in place. In this situation a museum selects approved suppliers through a formal procurement process and agrees set terms and conditions and 'master ceiling rates'. For each exhibition or touring project the museum then invites approved suppliers to tender via a mini-competition. The agreement does not commit the museum to using a certain agent or guarantee how much work they will get, nor do agents have any obligation to make a submission for each project.

Gander & White assess each invitation to tender based on their experience of working on similar projects, and their capacity to deliver this particular project. If they choose to tender, they submit a detailed response to the tender template provided, including a method statement and a full cost breakdown, contacting agents worldwide to estimate overseas costs. The museum then evaluates all submissions and awards the contract to the successful agent. For fairness and transparency it is important that you are clear about how you will score different estimates. Shipping agents (like us) are juggling many different projects at any one time so make sure to specify when the tender will be awarded and inform them when you have made a decision.

While Registrars don't need much convincing, it is always helpful to be reminded of what it is we are paying for when we draw on the expertise and specialist services of fine art shipping agents. It was great to get Jim and Amanda's insights into what we can do to assist them in providing an accurate indication of transport costs to help inform our exhibition budgets and planning. Thank you both, and to UKRG for another excellent event.

Lucy Malcolm Clark, Project Registrar, National Museums Scotland

Monday, 27 July 2015

Money Matters: The Art Fund and How it supports Museums and Galleries

Money Matters: UKRG Summer Event July 2015
The Art Fund and How it Supports Museums and Galleries
Penny Bull, Senior Programmes Manager, Acquisitions, Art Fund

This talk was given during the Money Matters event at the Design Museum. The event involved talks on many different area of museum funding by people who work both for museums and with museums in a financial capacity. This talk was the only one given by a member of a body specifically designed to fund museums and was therefore a great insight into how they approach applications and how they function as an organisation. The talk was given by Penny Bull, the senior programmes manager for acquisitions for the Art Fund. She went into great detail on the acquisition side of what the Art Fund does as well as talking about other areas of work that the Art Fund supports and funds, many of which I was unaware of before this talk.

Penny started the talk by giving some background on the Art Fund. It was originally founded in 1903 as the National Art Collection Fund, as a charity aimed at stopping art leaving the country. It is funded primarily by its members and offers grants for museums and galleries to support collections in three main ways, firstly through funding acquisitions, secondly by encouraging public engagement with collections, and thirdly by supporting curatorial activities.

Penny then went on explain the types of acquisitions and projects the Art Fund supports, how to go about applying, and the process after an award has been made. The Art Fund can fund purchases of any objects considered visually interesting, as well as works of fine art, however if the Art Fund does not think your proposed acquisition falls into their remit Penny said they will often try to point you to other sources of funding so it is always worth contacting them.

In order to apply to the Art Fund the applicant must be accredited or working towards accreditation, however there are occasions when the Art Fund may consider other organisations as well if they can demonstrate that they work to the same standards as accredited museums. The organisation must have a permanent collection that is open to the public for at least half the year, for at least half the week during that time. There is no limit on the total value that can be applied for so works of both local and national significance can be considered.

There are three types of application that can be submitted to the Art Fund, “large”, “small”, and “time critical”. Acquisitions over £15,000 (of which the Art Fund could contribute £7,500) are considered large and those under that value are considered small. Time critical ones are for purchases that must happen within seven days within London and 10 days outside of London (for example where an object is being sold at auction). Trustees must view any work to be purchased which can be problematic on tight timescales.

Small requests can be made at any time and the decision will usually be made within 4-6 weeks of the application being submitted. Large grant requests must be considered at the Board of Trustees meeting meaning there are regular deadlines for applications, though these are not published. There is no limit or suggestions on how much can be applied for, however the Art Fund ask applicants to find as much money are they can from other sources, and provide evidence of what other grants or funding has been applied for. This is due to the fact that they have limited funds and of course want to help as many causes as possible.

The application for a grant must contain certain specific information. Firstly, a case must be made for the acquisition of the work, including showing how it will fit into the collection and what the museum will do to maximise exposure of the work. Next the applicant must get an independent valuation for the object by a dealer or someone with proven commercial knowledge of the market. They applicant must also look into getting tax remission or a museum discount on the purchase to obtain the best possible price. The funding package must be set out clearly stating the various sources of funding and these must total the amount needed. The final section of the application should contain provenance information and due diligence checks and condition reports for the object. The objects must also be suitable to travel as they must be present at board meetings so they can be inspected by the Trustees.

After an award is made the Art Fund require a vendors invoice to be submitted along with the accession number assigned to the object and a photograph. After a year a review must be submitted detailing what had been done with the object in the year. This should include information about any marketing or promotion that was agreed as part of the application, however if a work has been in conservation for the year (for example) that is not a problem as long as progress has been made.

As well as funding acquisitions of objects the Art Fund also funds other projects and museum work. One example of this is the new collecting awards that are given to curators who wish to build a new collection within a museum and would like funding for multiple purchases or research for the collections. Touring exhibitions are occasionally supported, but mostly only as part of the promotion for an acquisition funded by the Art Fund.

The Art Fund financially supports museums through the Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants. These grants are awarded to curators or other museum staff to facilitate research through funding travel, books or administrative cover for time away from their usual job. They are typically £200- £2000 and can also be used to cover the associated costs of professional development opportunities such as training and networking events.

As well as funding museums directly the Art Fund has also set up a crowdfunding platform called Art Happens. The Art Fund provide the web platform and support but the individual museum must provide all the content for any funding requests.

Overall Penny’s talk was extremely useful in providing a background on how the Art Fund works, the way to approach filling in an application and the information they look for from potential applicants. It was also very interesting to see the different types of work the Art Fund supports as well as acquisitions which I have always assumed was their main focus.

I am very grateful for the bursary provided by Blackwall Green that allowed me to attend this fascinating event, and of course for the UKRG who organised the day itself.

Hazel Shorland, Assistant Registrar, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Income Generation for free collection displays - Money Matters event 17th July 2015

Money Matters
UKRG Summer event, 17th July 2015
Location: 1.5 Gallery, Design Museum, London

Income Generation for free collection displays
Eleanor Suggett, Assistant Curator of Collections, Design Museum

The Money Matters event began with a presentation looking at the challenges facing Museums and Galleries in developing creative, sustainable ways to generate income. Eleanor rightly pointed out that while it may not be the be-all and end-all, money undoubtedly plays a big part in what we can and can’t do.

Increasing pressure on budgets are affecting the whole sector, with worrying consequences. The Museums Association's Cuts Survey 2014 revealed that one in ten responding museums and galleries considered financially-motivated disposal in the previous year.

This session looked in detail at the ways in which the Design Museum have sought to generate sustainable income in order to fund collection displays. As you would expect from a museum dedicated to the display of enterprising and provocative design, some of the new proposed revenue streams involve some very exciting ideas.

To provide some background, the Design Museum is an independent, medium sized museum operating with around 65 staff. A registered charity, the museum receives no formal financial support from the Government relying instead on the generosity of individuals, companies, charitable trusts and foundations to help fund its programmes. Over 95% of museum running costs are generated from admissions, membership, trading, donations and sponsors.

In 2016, the culmination of a £80m capital project will see The Design Museum relocate to the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington ( The move represents a significant cultural, and well as geographical shift. Joining the ranks of London’s ‘Museum Quarter’ will undoubtedly mean a change both visitor demographic and overall numbers. In it’s first year the newly opened Museum expects to welcome over 500,000 visitors - a big increase on the 2013-14 figure of just over 167,000.

Eleanor advised that in order to develop ideas for income generation, the museum began by asking itself some key questions –

• Do we know our current and future audiences well? Can we predict what they want?
• How much time can we feasibly commit to looking at collection income streams?
• Do all teams understand the importance of fundraising?
• Do we have in-house experience/expertise to maximise on?
• Can we evaluate what we are doing now?

Out of this self assessment came a number of new ideas for income generation, capitalising on the momentum that will come with the opening of the new Museum building and the increased audience reach.

Moving forward, the museum will be commissioning a number of retail items inspired by the collection to be sold in the shop. A large percentage of the profits from these items will be ploughed back into the collections budgets. In addition, there will be also be 10 photographic commissions on the theme of possessions. These thought-provoking images will be available as limited edition prints in the shop and the museum will also be selling the rights for reproduction to a potentially wide range of outlets.

One of the more unusual ideas for product ranges involves developing several limited edition objects to be available in the museum shop and online. This all sounds fairly run-of-the-mill until you introduce the additional concept of a having a specially built machine in the gallery space itself, manufacturing these objects in front of visitors. The idea is that visitors will be able to ‘commission’ their own customized versions of these objects, fostering an invested interest in what they are creating.

Touring exhibitions are an important source of income for the museum with two exhibitions staff working solely on the creation and administration of such shows. The currently touring ‘A Century of Chairs’ exhibition ( has generated over £65,000 worth of income. There is a strong commitment to both making the collection work for the museum and opening up access in order to open up dialogue.

Many thanks to the UKRG and Blackwall Green for the travel bursary which allowed me to attend this event.

Siân Millar, Assistant Registrar, Manchester City Galleries

Monday, 18 May 2015

Bull in a China Shop: UKRG Blog Post in response to Bristol Museums, Galleries, and Archive’s Cups & Angel Wings presentation, written by Sivan Amar

My name is Sivan Amar and I am the Registrar & Production Manager at Tate Liverpool.  I was very fortunate enough to have been awarded the bursary in order to attend this fantastic UKRG event, “Let’s Put on a Show!” held in gorgeous Bristol at the M-Shed museum on 12 May.

I’ve been asked to write a post in response to Kate Newnham’s, Curator of Eastern Art and Culture at Bristol’s Museums, Galleries and Archives, presentation entitled “Porcelain coffee cups and glass angel wings – Shipping ‘Ahead of the Curve: New china from China’”.  The talk was aimed at presenting the numerous logistical challenges of planning an international exhibition of this scope.  The exhibition began as a 4 – 5 year project to be toured to four venues, three in the UK and one in China (Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery at Stoke-on-Trent, The Wilson at Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, and Two Cities Gallery in Shaghai).  Ms. Newnham focused on topics: developing funding bids, customs and transport logistics, working from different cultures, and a set of top tips.

It seemed that the funding bid took the longest time to develop from 2011 – February 2013.  Once the partnership was finally awarded almost £108,000 in grants from the Art Fund and British Council, the partners had a mere 6 months to proceed with all the other logistics of planning a worldwide exhibition.  Quite a daunting task for newcomers to the field of logistics planning!  (Surprisingly the exhibition was coordinated without a Registrar!) 

The team found out things in a sort of “chicken vs. egg” progression, not exactly knowing where to start nor what should come first.  Several challenges cropped up in this preliminary logistics stage, all of which are familiar to well-seasoned Registrars:  the checklist took a long time to confirm as there were quite a few living Chinese artists who kept changing their minds or lost the promised artwork, or even gave the work away as a gift; the language barrier didn’t help anyone; difficulties of working in with the Chinese government; and internal challenges such as restructuring of all three UK galleries due to government funding cuts, a co-curator having gone freelance, and of course, personal events such as marriages, babies, holidays (it’s always that last category that we all never tend to factor in!)

All things considered, I would have thought that the most frustrating challenge would have been with the Chinese government.  I could imagine that a country of so many types of restrictions would not prove helpful when coming to exporting goods overseas.  Crown Fine Art Shippers advised that they would need to apply for ATA carnet licenses for temporary export of the porcelains, enabling export for up to 12 months with return to China within that time.  Unfortunately, a requirement of this license is to pay a deposit of 1/3 of the value of the goods to Chinese customs prior to export…in cash!  The team obviously had to scramble to get this cash (as anyone would!), but were very fortunate in that the Bristol local authority lent the cash to see the exports through. 

The team’s next hurdle was deciding on UKGI or commercial insurance.  Though Ms. Newnham stated that the Arts Council team is helpful, like most government bodies, they require time and plenty of information to process a non-national institution’s application for coverage.  Additionally, the National Security Advisor had suggested that a courier accompany the shipping from China in order to ensure safe transport.  This was something the partners could not afford as they had chosen to ship via seafreight.  Therefore, the partners opted for maritime insurance with an efficient and tight timetable from the Chinese shippers Yang Ming.  The sea route aboard the ship Ubiquity travelled from Shanghai -> Sri Lanka -> Somalia (no pirates!) -> Mediterranean -> Felix Stowe, UK -> road transfer to Oxfordshire to Crown UK depot. 

Though condition reporting done in China was not to UK standards, there was sufficient photographic evidence for the team and conservators to monitor artwork safety upon unpacking in Cheltenham…with some loo paper thrown in the mix!  However, some of the crates came packed with beautiful silk lining (sorry Ms. Newnham, I don’t think this is something everyone can afford to do all the time!)

The exhibition was a success in Cheltanham and Bristol and continues to impress at each successive venue. 

The next challenge will be importing to China, with another lengthy sea freight trip back home.  Additionally, Ms. Newnham mentioned that Bristol would like to acquire several of the pieces to add to their renowned glass and pottery collection.  The question for the Registrars in attendance was how Bristol can acquire the works without having to forfeit the ATA carnet deposit to the Chinese government.  Can they keep the works in the UK under their NIRU?  Can they avoid paying import tax? 

I myself very recently (and painfully) came across this issue and was able to resolve quite easily with the advise of my shippers.  Because Bristol is a non-profit institution, they are eligible to have VAT waived on expenses.  Therefore, Bristol will have to pay the VAT import tax upfront, however once that invoice is issued the shipper will also automatically issue at C-79 certificate which can be submitted to HMRC to reclaim VAT on this import.  The shippers, Bristol financial department, and/or HMRC can certainly advise further on this point.  If those pieces Bristol want to acquire are returning to China for the rest of the tour, they will close out the existing NIRU and receive the full deposit back from Chinese customs, but they’ll have to ship the works again.  Either way, they are going to have additional costs.  Perhaps these can be covered by the acquisition funding?

As I had mentioned earlier, I was very surprised and a bit upset that a Registrar did not oversee a project of this scope.  I spoke with Ms. Newnham after her presentation, who stated that the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery does have a Registrar but due to her workload she was unable to work on this exhibition.  What upset me about this was that the job of a Registrar was in this case delegated to a curator.  Though the team successfully handled the project, it might have gone smoother had an expert been appointed to deal with the issues they came across.  When Ms. Newnham talked about the funding bid and finalizing budgets for the project, I wonder if a freelance Registrar could have been factored in?  This might have been thought of at the time but then had to be budgeted out, however I cannot stress the importance of a Registrar as expert in shipping, logistics, contractual, insurance, and art handling matters.  With the task of return shipping back to China, I would recommend a Registrar be employed for the job to ensure all documents, etc are in order (I absolutely fell in love with Bristol, so I’m happy to sign up for the job!).

Friday, 15 May 2015

#UKRGMShed: ‘NIRU: Museums & Galleries Relief Update’

Tim Gordon, CSDR and ToR Policy Advisor from HMRC, gave an update on the proposed changes that will be coming to Museums & Galleries Relief in 2015.

He explained that the draft of Notice 361 will soon be circulated within HMRC and will then be circulated more widely for consultation with current users of the Relief and their partners such as third-party agents, transporters and logistics specialists.  Tim very much encouraged us all to take part in this process (which should start in August) so that they can ensure it will be easy for us to adapt to.

Tim highlighted some of the changes that will be coming into effect, the main one being the introduction of an Annual Return from Approval Holders to NIRU. For this, accurate record-keeping will be vital, particularly with regards to the Customs Status of items which have been subject to this relief – where are they now, etc. NIRU will be working with us on all of this to ensure that the record keeping that we do throughout the year will easily provide the Annual Return to show this.

The wording of the Notice has also been changed to comply with the readability standards which the government has introduced. In essence, the Notice has had to be rewritten to make it clearer and compatible with a reading /writing age of 12.

A new Export Customs Procedure Code (CPC) is being introduced for items only held under the Relief so that when we want to return or send on items, this new CPC can be used which is specifically designed for dispatching items out of Museums & Galleries Relief. Testing of this will start soon and it will then go live later in the year.

The T5 issue that had been highlighted in an earlier talk by Momart was also discussed – Tim said that talks are happening to find a resolution with France and Brussels. In Notice 361, NIRU will be the Central Office for T5 imports and exports.

NB HMRC no longer have their own website, they are part of the website instead. If you cannot find any guidance or help that you need, please contact Tim:

 Claire Cooper, Documentation Officer, Leicester Arts and Museums Service.

#UKRGMShed: ‘What a saga! Bringing Viking Voyagers to Cornwall’

You might expect to find a family-friendly exhibition showcasing Viking treasures borrowed from Europe’s national museums in major metropolitan museums. But Tehmina Goskar gave an insightful overview of the challenges and opportunities involved in putting on such a show at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, a non-national museum in the Cornish port town of Falmouth. With a stunning waterfront location and the National Small Boat collection to showcase, the museum has made a name for itself as “Britain’s most family friendly museum.”

Tehmina described how the ambitious Viking Voyagers exhibition built on the museum’s existing strengths whilst encouraging the museum to work to even higher standards to ensure that ancient objects borrowed from institutions including the British Museum, Manx National Heritage and the National Museums of Ireland and Denmark received necessary care and security.

Tehmina led us through particular challenges: the key themes that emerged were the value of partnership working and the need for open and clear communication, meticulous planning and investment in infrastructure.

She outlined how, following an assessment by the National Security Advisor, she was able to draw on advice from registrars at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and Tate St Ives, which the museum used to update its buildings and procedures, most notably installing high-definition colour CCTV. The assessment also enabled her to advocate for the museum to update its environmental monitoring systems and she emphasised the universal usefulness of good environmental data.

Indeed, Tehmina described how preparations for the exhibition occasioned a culture change, as she worked to ensure that her colleagues understood nd supported the need to meet lenders’ conditions and also that lenders understood a little about Cornwall and the museum. The exhibition also occasioned a valuable collaboration with the British Museum: Dr Gareth Williams was not only a guest curator but also appeared in Viking dress in exhibition publicity!

Good communication and partnership working enabled the museum to tackle daunting challenges: from ensuring that the cases they invested in met all stakeholders’ requirements and that crated objects would fit in their storage space to navigating the potential minefield of insurance. She vividly described her negotiations with the National Museum of Denmark, who were unable to accept UK Government Indemnity. The museum judiciously drew on the experience of a professional mount maker and an experienced transport agent to supplement their in-house expertise. Successful internal advocacy enabled Tehmina to ensure that there was someone on site to receive late-night deliveries and that the installation site was kept free from other works. Indeed, the gallery has provided an opportunity to engage volunteers in both invigilating the exhibition and engaging visitors in discussions about the amazing borrowed objects.

This was a fascinating case-study of not only how a modest-scale museum can mount a blockbuster style exhibition, but also how such an exhibition can drive culture change and infrastructure investment.

Susannah Darby, Collections Information Officer, Science Museum

Thursday, 14 May 2015

#UGRGMShed ‘Work together to strut your stuff’: An exhibition game for audience participation

For the final session at the UKRG event ‘Let’s Put On a Show! : Exhibition Essentials’, Nickos Gogolos, Registrar at The V&A, was invited to lead an interactive group session. To facilitate this, delegates were split into small groups, through random allocation given on their name badges at the beginning of the event.

We were then given two different touring exhibition scenarios, with three groups working on each of these. Within our groups, we had to discuss the problems we would face and possible solutions and outcomes.
The scenarios themselves were complex, including multiple venues, large numbers of objects and various access and environmental considerations. In my group, the basis of our given scenario was an exhibition from a National Museum in London which was to go on tour. These 70 objects were to go to a local authority museum, and then to a National Trust Property with both venues being charged an exhibition fee.

We discussed the various points, though the discussion was a little slow to get going at the beginning people soon got into the flow! We talked about the exhibition fee and what we would expect this to include (we were hoping for transport, interpretation and expertise), the variety of objects and the lack of cases and staff at the local authority museum. There were also unknown quantities which we would need more information on in order to come to any decisions. With only 20 minutes, we raised far more questions than we could answer, but were able to begin thinking about some of the solutions, such as borrowing cases from the national museum.

Nikos then asked for our ideas and solutions, one scenario at a time.  Many questions were fired at him, which he answered sometimes teasingly with a bit more information to keep us thinking and questioning, and sometimes to great amusement at the types of issues we all have to deal with!

Some of the points discussed were;  the differing environmental standards in National Trust properties to those in museums, whether object numbers could be reduced in smaller venues or if they came as a package, whether the National museum could assist with mounting costumes, the length of timescales, sponsorship for display cases and whether installation could take place during opening hours.

This was a good opportunity to hear views from those in different institutions and from varying roles. The discussion felt quite short at the time, with the whole session taking only an hour, and I felt I wanted more time to hear everyone’s ideas, but in hindsight, I feel it left us with lots to go away and think about.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

#UKRGMShed Customs Matters: Exhibitions Essentials

Steve Gourley, Business Process and Compliance Manager at Momart Ltd, gave us a brief insight into the world of exhibitions-related customs this morning at MShed in Bristol:

General Information

  • The Customs Status indicates whether import Duties and Taxes have been paid for Community Goods (free circulation, union goods, T2) or Non-Community Goods (Not in free circulation, non-union goods, T1).
  • The Commodity Code tells Customs what the goods are, e.g. 9701 1000 00 is paintings, drawings and pastels.
  • The Customs Procedure Code (CPC) tells Customs what we want to do with the goods, e.g. 40 00 200 is permanent import and pay 5% import VAT.

UK Exhibitions – Borrowing

  • NIRU Museums and Galleries Relief
    • Importers must be approved by NIRU which is valid for 3 years via an approval letter which must accompany every import customs entry when claiming relief.
    • Duty Relief applies for exhibits that are not for sale, dispatched directly, where items are used exclusively as exhibits and detailed records are kept.
    • VAT Relief is then granted as long as the exhibits have been donated free of charge or if they are bought from a private individual.
    • If objects are to stay in the UK, NIRU must approve if they are transferred to another NIRU institution or are diverted to home use with the importer paying VAT.
    • If objects are to leave the UK, where they are re-exported from the EU a full export Customs entry is required, CPC code 10 00 001 and they may require a UK or EU export licence. If they are transferred within the EU they may require a UK export licence and Customs form T5 must be used, although be warned as some EU countries don't accept T5.
  • Temporary Admission (TA)
    • To be eligible for Duty and VAT relief, objects must be imported for a specific use or reason, with the intention of being re-exported or removed from TA within the time limit given and not be altered when imported.
    • Security must be provided to cover the potential Duty and/or VAT charges due. This can be in the form of a cash deposit, Deed of Guarantee or as a holder of a full TA authorisation.
    • Where objects are to stay in the UK they can be either transferred to a Customs 'Bonded' Warehouse or to another TA authorisation holder.
    • If objects are to leave the UK, where they are re-exported from the EU a full customs entry is required, CPC code 31 53 000 but no export is required. If they are transferred within the EU the community transit declaration T1 is required but once again no export licence.

Overseas Exhibitions – Lending

  • Temporary Export and Return Goods Relief (RGR) applies for objects that are Community Goods in Free Circulation. A Full Customs entry is required, the owner declared on entry and CPC code 23 00 000. A UK or EU export licence may be required and an INF3 if returning to another EU country.

Well, what a lot to take in! I think this just goes to show how hard our transport agents work. Thank you to Steve for concisely summarising exhibitions-related customs.

Nadine Loach
Exhibition and Display Coordinator, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Friday, 6 March 2015


We now have a few pictures to share from the recent 2nd annual CPD event at the Museum of London . It was great to see so many members including some new faces, and have a really engaging event with lots of mingling.  Thank you to all the UKRG committee, especially the events officers Marie Rose and Helen Parkin as well as the speakers and attendees and to the Museum of London.  Speakers presentations will be available on the resources section of the UKRG website shortly as will some future pictures.  



Tuesday, 3 March 2015

#UKRGMoL Communication: What You Say and How You Say it - Negotiating a Better Outcome

Negotiating a Better Outcome

This was stimulating and informative session on how best to approach negotiations. Using a practical, structured approach, Jan Slater began by looking at a four-stage process before moving on to look at how an awareness of personality types and type behaviours can be used by the Registrar looking to achieve the best results from their daily negotiations.

Jan began by suggesting that the one of the fundamental aspects of negotiation is an awareness of value, both in terms of maximising the value of the results we achieve through our negotiations, and becoming more aware of the value of the assets we offer. Jan emphasised that everything has value, and one of the keys to achieving successful results through negotiation is identifying what is “cheap to give, but valuable to receive”

We went on to look at a structure to assist with getting the best out of negotiations, based on four phases  - Preparation, Debate, Proposal and Bargaining. Jan emphasised that it is important to follow each stage through carefully to ensure that priorities are not neglected, and that the participants in a negotiation should keep sight of the value of all aspects under discussion, and not just the principal ones  - ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. Jan discussed examples directly related to the work of the Registrar and concluded with the very practical suggestion of making a clear summary at the end of a negotiation of what has been discussed, and agreed.

In the second part of the session, Jan continued with a detailed and informative look at four Personality Type behaviours, and how these might affect negotiation strategies. Starting from the premise that your partner in a negotiation may have a very different personality type, Jan suggested that good negotiation is based on a mix of left-brain traits (facts, figures, statistics, sequence, analysis) and right brain (analogy, stories, demonstration, metaphor, images), and understanding your own inclinations one way or the other, as well as those of your opposite party. These four personality types described were defined by degrees of consideration and initiation, and Jan offered realistic scenarios of how the Registrar might encounter these types in their daily work. The common thread through each scenario was building trust and respect between parties; establishing shared ground and the sense of mutual benefit.

Jan went on give an insight into how these approaches might be practically applied to overcome typical obstacles in the process of discussing and agreeing loans, in order to achieve the best possible results. Of particular interest was her concluding comment that communicating and working  in the manner of a ‘Type 4’ personality – Professional, Decisive, Questioning, Proactive – can often achieve good results, particularly in those instances where the opposite party is being less than forthcoming!

Jan noted at the start of her talk that these approaches are usually taught over a number of days and in far greater depth, but this was a stimulating introduction to the topic, worth further exploration, and one that could be of real practical use to the Registrar in their day-to-day work in a variety of situations. It became clear to me just how much of my daily work as a commercial gallery Registrar comes down to negotiation in one way or another. Working with clients, lenders, colleagues, transport agents and others all involves proposing, discussing and agreeing outcomes, and all Registrars have much to gain by developing and improving these skills. 

Daniel Smernicki, 
Registrar, Ingleby Gallery

#UKRGMoL: 'Communication: What You Say and How You Say It!'

UKRG's Second Annual CPD Event – Friday 27th February 2015

A Fundraiser's Point of View

For me one of the best things about being a registrar is the range of people that I get to communicate with. Starting communication on the best possible footing is important when we are often asking people lots of questions, trying to negotiate with them or need them to complete paperwork. Judith Kerr, Head of Trusts and Individual Giving at The National Gallery, shared her advice about business etiquette for the museums sector at the UKRG CPD event on 27 February.

Judith started by highlighting that lenders all have specific demands and expectations of how they would like to be treated. As with the advice we gleaned about public speaking and negotiating, the key is to adapt to the audience. Before we make the first contact we should consider who the person is, what their needs are, their interests and concerns. We should then consider if the person has an existing relationship with our institution, maybe a curator knows them well. Do we have any information on file about how they like to be addressed? Should we be communicating with their PA initially? Some lenders have very specific wishes as to how they should be addressed which might vary between letter, email or credit line.

First impressions are important: accuracy, politeness and efficiency are the aim and characteristics we would all aspire to. We should also follow brand guidelines, as our organisation may have a preferred style. Matching the tone and level of formality to that of the other party is a good guide to pitch communication at the right level but if we are instigating communication it is safest to start formally and reduce the level of formality if and when the other person does so, such as moving to first name terms.

When I started to work in the Arts, one of the new things for me was the amount of communication I had with people who have titles and honours. For this sometimes challenging area, Judith advised checking which contains a myriad of advice from how to correctly address the royal family to members of the clergy. Just a word of warning that once you start reading this website it is dangerously addictive, especially the information about British etiquette!

Another form of etiquette that can play an important part in a registrar's role is cultural etiquette when working with international partners. There is such a range of cultural codes of behaviour that things we may take for granted as good etiquette might in fact be rude for our international colleagues.

Once we have made a good first impression, developing the relationship is important through listening, building rapport and regular communication. Judith's advice that what someone says is not always what they mean is a good cautionary note to remember in our role where dotting the I's and crossing the T's is so important. I have learnt never to assume what the other party means, if there is any room for misunderstanding, clarify!

Katie Robson, Loans Officer, National Museums Scotland