Friday, 3 March 2017

Scotland’s Recognition Scheme. Jennifer Youngson, Quality Assurance Manager, Recognition Scheme, Museums and Galleries Scotland

National Galleries for Scotland administers the scheme which gives recognised status to nationally important collections outside of national institutions. Its about celebrating, promoting and investing in the collections to ensure their long term future by increasing awareness, engagement and pride in the collections.

There are currently 47 recognised collections, 18 are local authority collections, 21 are independent, 1 partnership collection and not forgetting the museum collections at Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrews.

The scheme has developed over 13 years from initial feasibility and sector consultation to announcing the first recognised collections 10 years ago and has moved onto review and developing the scheme to ensure its sustainable and can evolve.

Application process
The first step is attending a workshop to find out more about the process at the beginning of the year to assist in making a strong application. The cut off for applications is the end of June.

Each application is very detailed to enable a fair assessment. There is a limit of one box file which sounds a lot but in reality isnt, so its key to provide what the assessment team are looking for and to make it count.

Initially there is a rapid assessment, after which the file is passed to a subject specialist whose knowledge is particularly relevant to that collection. Often they work with specialists across a number of organisations such as the V&A. The final decision is ultimately made by a committee with a range of skills and expertise.

Once a collection achieves recognised status there is a real sense of celebration and strong promoting of the collection with media announcements. There is also the ability to apply for funding, link ups with other recognised collections and a sense of collective advocacy with similar collections.

Recognised collections also get exclusive access to the recognition fund. Its quite unique in the fact the funding is 100% grants with no match funding and also aligns to scheme objectives. Upto £60,000 can be allocated per project that lasts upto 2 years. Although there is two rounds per year it is highly competitive, so to achieve funding is a huge achievement.

Recognised collections are now expected to give annual status reports and demonstrate they are developing, sharing experiences and promoting engagement with their collections. Status reviews happen every 5 years or when there is a significant change to ensure eligibility continues and that the collection develops in line with the scheme objectives.

Key outcomes
There has been over 10,000 research request to access recognised collections 2014-16 (Key evaluation period). In the same period there has been a 10% rise in records of digitally accessible collections and over 2,000 loans from recognised collections every year, a 1/3 of the loans are to institutions outside of the UK.

There is a real sense of collaborative work with subject specialists and learning across the recognised collections. The application process may seem daunting but there is support throughout from the initial workshops through to the final decision. 

By Rachel Coman

Museums in Crisis: A positive outcome for Lancashire Museums? Joanna Hayward, Registrar, Lancashire County Council Museum Service

Budget cuts are something we are all too familiar with hearing about, and Joanna Hayward, the Registrar for Lancashire County Council Museum Service, gave a talk on facing unprecedented cuts and how it affected her role.

Joanna’s talk started by explaining the sites covered by the museum service in Lancashire, a wide range including two castles, mills and an archaeological site as well, meaning their collections covered all disciplines from pre-historic to the modern day.  The service has a collection of over 150,000 objects and works of art, with their textile collections ‘designated’ as of national importance.
In 2015 the Council announced that it had to make cuts of £262million, an unprecedented amount, which meant services such as museums could not be afforded.  The council announced in August 2015 that they were to be closing 5 museums to the public on the 31st March 2016; Museum of Lancashire in Preston, the Judges’ Lodgings Museum in Lancaster, Fleetwood Museum, Queen Street Mill Textile Museum in Burnley and the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum in Rossendale.

Understandably there was a public outcry to these proposed closures. Joanna explained the different ways to manage the collections were looked at. Organisations and groups were asked to express interest as a result a stay of execution was put in place during negotiations for six months. 

Unfortunately the aforementioned 5 sites were closed on the 30th September 2016.
To transfer the collections to new owners, an inventory of it in its entirety needed to be conducted. Due to the task faced, everyone was called in to take part, volunteers were relocated and casual staff were trained. To save time, information was recorded at the minimum level, a major difference to before when the documentation level was above SPECTRUM standard.

As is the case in many museums, the service has both loans in and out that needed to be considered during this turbulent time. Lenders and borrowers were kept informed of the situation, these included national and local museums, independent and private lenders. Joanna explained that letters were sent at every stage, letting them know progress and giving them information as soon as it became available. Through the documentation of the collection, it became clear that the list of loans was getting longer than the 115 lenders that were initially thought.

Other legal issues were looked at in the presentation including funding that the service had received and what the terms and conditions contained about closure, as well as objects that had been bequeathed to the service in wills and how the conditions of transfer could be affected by these.
Joanna concluded by explaining where the process was up to now; the service is looking at lending the collections rather than transferring them to new organisations. Although this is something that has been a concern for many institutions and services, it is actually happening to Lancashire’s collections and Joanna put forward that we need to look at different ways of working, become better cultural businesses and more enterprising to keep a bright future for the collections.

By Ruth Clapham, Assistant Registrar, Museum of Science and Industry 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

UKRG Culture Club: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

The Paris Secret by Karen Swan
‘Not every door should be opened’

(Not every book should be opened!)

I was given this book and I thought from the cover it wouldn’t really be my kind of thing, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.  As I suspected, I realised quite soon that the book was a romantic cliché and I was about to give up and put it in the charity bag, when on page 48 I read a reference to  the Art Loss Register.. ‘ It was the absolute first step on this path; nothing could be decided without the feedback from those records’.  ‘Provenance was paramount to explain how it had ended up here’.

Those lines made me sit up, take notice and carry on reading!  Someone was talking my language and the mantra of Registrars across the world.  The story unfolds of a young woman, Flora, who previously worked at Christies, and now works for a private art dealer.  At an exciting multi-million pound auction she receives the news from her employer that they have been asked to deal with a potential art collection sale for the Vermeil family in Paris.  The potential is unknown as the family have only just discovered the property they own exists.  It has remained untouched and closed for over 70 years.  It was last used in 1943 when it was closed up and given to a notary to secretly hold the deeds until certain other family members had died.  One last relative of that era is still alive, but she is aged 99 and refuses to give away any secrets.  The apartment has only come to light because someone has broken into it and made a discovery.

On investigating the apartment Flora discovers 203 paintings, 57 sculptures and 316 artefacts just as they were left lying around the apartment in a jumble in the 1940s.  Of course there weren’t just any old artworks in the newly discovered property; Flora uses her expert knowledge to identify Manet, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Renoir – conveniently.  There follows a lovely process of cataloguing, even a kind of matrix of importance and type is put into use.  The type of collections management project many of my colleagues would delight in undertaking.  There are some twists and turns to keep you interested whilst the audit is undertaken such as the revelation of a duplicate apartment, a broody and moody handsome Vermeil son and even a fight involving a stuffed ostrich.  Who knew working with art collections was such fun?

And the due diligence continues, by page 71 the narrative explains to the reader that ‘..checking if a painting is reported as missing or stolen is ‘the first step in due diligence any time an artwork of this importance re-emerges on the market’

There is a brief discussion about how the uncontrolled environment in the apartment may have affected the art works, but this is soon dismissed with  ‘Obviously humidity would have changed throughout the year as the space wasn’t climate controlled, but all things considered, not a disaster’.  So luckily all the works are in good condition and ready to sell – if only they can just sort out that provenance.

Not surprisingly, once Flora starts digging, the possibility of the art stash being connected to Nazi loot increases.  ‘The resistance flooded the market with good-quality fakes to dupe the Germans as it was.  If we can’t show a step-perfect paper trail, all bets are off. The painting’s authenticity will be thrown into doubt if we go to market saying it was found in an abandoned apartment and clients explain how they came by it’.  So there is a race to prove both that the paintings are not fake and that they weren’t looted or bought from Nazi collaborators.

Depending on your point of view this due diligence chase is the focus of the book, or the development of the feisty romance between Flora and Xavier Vermeil could have been the intended focal point.  *(Spoiler)* Of course he turns out to be a gifted artist in his own right, but hides his talents from the world, of course both Flora and Xavier have unfolding tragedies in their families and of course they argue bitterly, realise they have been mistaken about each other and end the book falling into each other’s arms.  Not before the provenance has been proved I might add. 

Flora correctly proves that the paintings had belonged to Jewish families.  At first she thought Xavier’s late grandfather, who had last used the apartment, was a despicable Nazi collaborator, collecting art from vulnerable Jewish families and then amassing a fortune from their misfortunes.  But then it is revealed that in fact he would buy the paintings and ship them to Switzerland, with a hidden compartment that would hide the children of the Jewish families and get them to safety.  He had been part of The Oeuve de Secours aux Enfants (Children’s Aid Society) a French-Jewish humanitarian movement that worked with The Resistance early in the War. 

Overall, this wasn’t a great read for me, but I did enjoy the seeing aspects of the Registrar’s role being a central part of the novel.   I think this may be the only book that uses due diligence as a plot device to keep the heroine occupied in a location near her interest so that the romance can blossom.  If you like cheesy romantic stories, with some underlying good documentation principles – this is the book for you!

By Lynn Wall
National Museums Scotland