Monday: From Stromness to London
Planes and trains were the flavour of the day, finished off with a quick taste of Tate Modern. The Turbine Hall was a hive of creative intervention, featuring the Danish Artist’s Collective SUPERFLEX installation One Two Three Swing! The construction radiates fantastic energy, inviting visitors to actively become a part of its playfulness. There was just enough time to take in the Modigliani exhibition; for me, the highlight being a room dedicated to his sculptural drawings; pencil and crayon capturing the classical female figure through an elegant use of line. A tiring day of travel, but one which definitely got the creative juices flowing… Welcome to London!
Tuesday: Day 1
Introduction | Making a Loan Request and Timeline of a Loan | Prints and Drawings Room
Having never previously visited the British Museum, it is safe to say our scheduled 10am ‘meeting point’ in the Great Court did not disappoint! Walking through the main doors of this iconic building and entering under the canopy of the colossal glass roof proved a memorable first experience, and introduced me to the wonderful environment I would be part of for the next four days. Our morning was spent bonding with fellow participants and members of the BM Loans team, specifically Rob Owens the Loans Manager who delivered the majority of the course throughout the week. Sessions focused on recognising the value of the loan request letter and understanding the timeline of the loan - from the submission of a request right through to delivery. In the afternoon, we were invited to meet with Hugo Chapman, the Head of Prints and Drawings at the BM, where he gave us an insight into how he considers loan requests within his department. This was rounded off with a selection of drawings and ephemera from the collection, including a beautiful red chalk study for Adam by Michelangelo. Molto bello!
Wednesday: Day 2
Budgeting and Costs | Conservation (Stone and Organics)
Another mild January morning in London, and my second day at the British Museum. Today’s session focused on ‘budgets’: primarily identifying direct and indirect costs, and building effective and realistic loan estimations. We worked closely with Lucy Carson who is Loans Coordinator for the Department of Asia, and were assigned various scenarios to work through; developing spreadsheets, anticipating costs, identifying agents, and factoring in various contingency methods. This was one of the most intense parts of the week’s training, covering many aspects of the loans process including shipping methods, couriers, additional fees (for lenders), insurance and conservation. It was with great delight that we then got to peak ‘behind the scenes’ into the world of conservation that exists at the BM. Karen Birkhoelzer, Senior Conservaor of Stone, Wall Paintings and Mosaics, gave us an insight into the daily demands of her and her team – working continuously and rigorously to insure objects on loan are being delivered in their best condition, simultaneously overseeing the best care of the collection at all times. This was followed by a ‘Loans Surgery Session’ in Organics Conservation where we witnessed a diverse range of objects being given special attention: from an Egyptian coffin being cleaned, treated and hand-painted; to the patching and reworking of textiles which included a fisherman’s basket from an extinct indigenous tribe. To end the day, and to celebrate the ‘halfway point’ of training week, we all ventured out for tea and team bonding over pasta and pizza – hooray!
Thursday: Day 3
Display and Environment | Facilities and Security | Agreements, Insurance and Indemnity
Having survived Wednesday’s ‘budgets’, Thursday morning saw a very sunny if not chilly start to the day. The Great Court was awash with blue skies pouring-in, showering everything in sunlight. From spending most of our time so far in the new part of the building, we headed for the board room in the Museum’s West Residence. There we met with William Brown, the National Security Advisor at Arts Council England, and David Bilson, Head of Security and Visitor Services at The British Museum. We were given a very insightful overview of the security requirements and the role of the NSA and the Government Indemnity Scheme (GIS), and how best to control risk management within a museum or gallery environment. From looking quite specifically at facilities and security supplements, Carol Warner, Manager of the Government Indemnity Scheme at Arts Council England, then guided us through insurance and indemnity with specific reference to GIS (a policy which protects objects by maintaining and restoring their value). A lot like the budgets session, this was very informative and quite full-on! At the end of the session, my head was buzzing with the day’s discussion, so meeting with friends for Japanese street food in Soho was the perfect way to indulge the senses! (The French toast and matcha ice cream at Shackfuyu comes highly recommended!)
Friday: Day 4
Making the Loan Happen
The last day – and, what a week! Friday mornings timetable gave us a session with Jane Bennett, Senior Project Manager in the Museum Exhibitions department, talking through the planning, preparation and delivery of an exhibition – essentially, making the loan happen. Jane coordinated the production of the Museum’s current temporary exhibition in Gallery 35, Living with Gods, and guided us through its development with specific reference to acquiring loans; from initial ideas, to working ‘ideas boards’, design test pages and 3D models. We were also fortunate to meet two further members of the Exhibitions team, Lindsey Breaks and Tim Chamberlain, who work on the Museum’s travelling exhibitions, giving us an overview of being a courier with objects and the measures and contingencies that it can entail. This was followed by our last lunch together (very sad!) and an afternoon in the Packing and Secure Storage Areas (very exciting!). Overall, I was amazed at the scale of everything at the Museum – there is just so much space, and so much of which exists out-with the public perspective. We were exceptionally lucky because there was a LOT of packing being undertaken for an upcoming travelling exhibition to Nashville - so we really got to witness things in motion! For me, it was incredibly interesting to see the time and dedicated care that goes into processing objects on loan, and producing unique moulds and mounts for each container and crate– the packaging itself is a work of art. And the grand finale, an invite to view Living with Gods – which proved a very quiet and reflective way to culminate what was a very enlightening week.
Getting Loan Ready was a fantastic opportunity to meet with Loans Manager Rob Owens and all of his wonderful colleagues - spread across various departments at the British Museum - who gifted us with their time, knowledge and experience of the loans process. I hope to now make considerable room for reflection and feedback all of the information to my colleagues at the Pier.
To everyone involved, thank you!