Notes on Artists working in Museum & Heritage Settings

Image: Keith Harrison, 'M25 London Orbital' at the V & A.

The day kicked off to a full house with a presentation by artist Keith Harrison who has recently had a residency at the V & A Museum. His work usually involves electronic interventions, a process – he confesses – with unpredictable outcomes. For the V & A he experimented with ‘self-firing’ ceramics, which were wired to internally fire, and produced a ceramic railway line running through the museum and courtyard. Other outcomes included ceramic turntables in response to a radio in Lucie Rie’s studio – recreated in the V & A. Sound and music are a key inspiration and prompted a series of ‘disruptions’ in the museum involving music, electronics with ceramic works.

Keith discussed the incongruity of his pyrotechnic ceramic works, the copious artefacts and artworks in the collection, and the valuable relationships he built with the museums employees, particularly the Health and Safety officer who also happened to be a pyrotechnics enthusiast.

Keith’s examples of ways to work with, and within, museum and heritage settings, provided an excellent grounding for the rest of the days speakers, who added different organisations perspectives on artist and museum collaborations: Judith King, Artistic Director of Arts & Heritage, described projects with fashion designer Stella McCartney and artist Hugh Locke. Tom Freshwater, Head of Programmes at the National Trust, spoke of the organisations history of working with artists and their increasingly ambitious departures into thought provoking and challenging contemporary art. Mary Godwin, Museums Relationship Manager (SW) of Arts Council England (ACE), shared ACE’s ambition to support partnerships between artists and Museums. And finally, Susie O’Reilly, Project Director of New Expressions introduced the programme and the New Opportunities Award.

Image: Artists with art and museum professionals at the Artists Working in Museum & Heritage Settings event.

After lunch, and the first networking opportunity of the day, we broke out into workshop sessions where the key question on everyone’s mind was: What do artists need to know about museum and heritage settings to get the best out of a collaboration commission (and vice versa)? Here’s what we found out:

  • Museums want to be surprised, challenged and inspired by artists
  • Where the museum produces a brief, this should be clear and the artist should be sure to address it
  • Artists approaching a museum should identify a key contact person
  • Research should be undertaken before making contact : What are the museums aims and objectives?
  • The museum should be approached with the artists aims and objectives
  • Clear communication, using appropriate language, will ensure a good information flow
  • Consider the collaboration as a journey for both the museum and the artist
  • Build a relationship with each other and have regular conversations
  • Understand the roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers: introductions early on are important and invaluable
  • Find common ground
  • Be realistic about time-scales
  • Consider the travel distance as a practicality and cost

Presentations by the speakers can be viewed on the links below:

Jacy Wall - The Nature of Mending

Tom Freshwater - National Trust's 'Trust New Art' Programme

The event communicated the mutual benefits for artists and museums working in collaboration. Rich discoveries are available to artists who can really engage with a museum’s collection to scratch under the surface and offer the museum and their visitors fresh perspectives on interpretation. The museum can attract new audiences, who have the opportunity to observe artistic processes, practice and engage with contemporary art, which provides new ways into the collection.

What's On

Empire Through the Lens

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL

Saturday 30 September 2017 – Friday 31 August 2018

Plymouth Art Weekender 2018


Tuesday 09 January 2018 – Sunday 30 September 2018

The Artizan Garden Salon Open Show

7 Lucius Street

Friday 02 February 2018 – Sunday 23 December 2018

Visual Arts South West

Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.

Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network

Supported by: