Teaming with Artists: An MDEM workshop follow-up

July 3, 2014

An article written by Helen Wainwright, Nottingham Castle Museum.

In 2011, a great swarm of beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and moths escaped from a broken specimen cabinet, and the thousands of bugs swept through Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery. Or so Anna Collette Hunt would have you believe.

After winning the 2010 Nottingham Castle Annual Open, Hunt was awarded a solo show at the Castle, ultimately titled Stirring the Swarm (8 October 2011 – 29 January 2012). The most spectacular work included in the exhibition was titled The Swarm and comprised of 10,000 handmade ceramic insects and beetles pinned to the walls of the hallway inside Nottingham Castle. This exhibition exemplified the two conjoining forces responsible for the success of the exhibitions and associated events which constitute the temporary exhibition programme at the Castle. It showcases the ease at which Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery accommodated and collaborated with the artist, to form a challenging, time consuming installation, whilst encapsulating the encouragement shown by the team to artists in general.

Deborah Dean, Visual Art & Collections Manager and Tristram Aver, Exhibitions Officer, are constantly pushing for artists to test the boundaries of the expected within the exhibition spaces, and persistently encourage individuals to work collaboratively in order to make brave and challenging artworks. As a result, Nottingham Castle is recognised as one of the most successful institutions for engaging with artists and artists groups in the region.

In response to this, Museum Development East Midlands (MDEM) invited Tristram to talk at a workshop for gallery, museum and trust representatives wishing to begin partnering with artists as part of the MDEM’s new ‘Artists in Museums’ programme. The scheme is currently under construction and focuses on grant development to help institutions gain the confidence to approach and attract artists to them, and ultimately create large funding bids to produce enriching, successful and collaborative projects. During the workshop, it became quite clear that flexibility is paramount. Tristram conveyed how in the eyes of the Castle, allowing artists to utilise the permanent collection, the building, and the grounds, as a source of reference is essential to the continuing re-contextualisation of all the artworks and objects housed within Nottingham’s vast public collection. Deborah reiterates this by offering the following words of advice:

“Be prepared… try to give the artist as much scope as possible to develop ideas and try not to be too prescriptive but at the same time I think it’s important to be clear from the outset about any constraints, such as budget. Remain open to possibilities but establish early on that it’s a two way dialogue and you can benefit from each other’s specialist knowledge and skills.”

It is widely recognised that collaborating with other organisations, groups and individuals is extremely beneficial, and can lead to the multiplication of knowledge, contexts, skills and ultimately footfall for any heritage institution. There is enormous scope for those individuals responsible for creating new partnerships at their respective institutions to work with artists and/or artists collectives and, most significantly, to bid for large grants to support prospective projects. The possibility of inviting artists into your establishment in order to engage with what is on display or hidden in the archives, should be an exciting prospect, despite the fact that the outcome could be unexpected or might prove challenging.

Photo: Stirring the Swarm, 2011, Anna Collette Hunt, Nottingham Castle, 2011 Image credit: Anthony Hopwood

Find out more

To learn more about MDEM’s ‘Artists in Museums’ development programme, sign-up to their next workshop:

Artists in Museums: A Workshop to Explore your Options
9 September 2014, 10am – 1pm
Where: Wellingborough Museum, Northamptonshire

A workshop for museums that are Accredited or working towards Accreditation in the East Midlands.

Coming up

Latest Tweets

We're thrilled to be launching our 'Family Friendly Museum' programme aimed at sites with no dedicated learning staff. It includes 10 months of ... support from the fantastic @kidsinmuseums deadline 4th June for applications

Pleased to be facilitating the final meeting of @MusDevEM trustee succession planning group today. Great success for 6 museums embracing the challenge... and now welcoming new board members. Well done everyone. @OldHouseMuseum @Fox_BoilerHouse @wirks_heritage @Ashby_Museum