Spotlight: Meeting Point - Museums and contemporary arts working together

Refuge: Ropner’s Ghost Ship by Stephen Dixon and Alison Welsh at Preston Park Museum and Grounds © Jonathan Turner.

Refuge: Ropner’s Ghost Ship by Stephen Dixon and Alison Welsh at Preston Park Museum and Grounds © Jonathan Turner.

Meeting Point is a commissioning programme led by Northumberland-based Arts&Heritage which partners contemporary artists with museums. Taking place for a second year across ten museums in the North of England, the project shows why museums and the contemporary arts should be working together. We talk to Arts&Heritage Associate Morag Iles about the project.

Tell us a little bit about Arts&Heritage and how the Meeting Point project came about.

Arts&Heritage works with artists, architects, designers and performers, museums and historic houses to explore new ways of working together, often resulting in extraordinary new artworks that bring history alive in unexpected ways. We have worked with national heritage partners such as English Heritage, the National Trust and the National Railway Museum as well as regional museums, commercial galleries, independent historic houses and churches. We advise, promote, curate and deliver interesting partnerships and imaginative projects. 

Since 2014, Arts&Heritage has been delivering a programme called Meeting Point with museums across the North of England, supporting them as they commission artists often for the first time resulting in 19 contemporary works that range from the Bronte signatures in the open fells to a time based work in an ancient Ice House. Meeting Point was initiated in response to a perceived need for capacity building and resilience particularly in small to medium sized museums. The launch of the Museum Resilience Fund by Arts Council, provided us with an opportunity to apply for funds to support museums to raise their profile, expand their audience and explore a different method of programming through commissioning artists to highlight some of their extraordinary narratives, collections and sites.

Gestured by Brass Art at Chetham’s Library © Jonathan Turner.

Gestured by Brass Art at Chetham’s Library © Jonathan Turner.

How did the varied venues come to be part of the project, and how were the artists selected?

Small to medium sized museums from across the North East, North West and Yorkshire were asked to respond to a call out. Museums were selected in collaboration with Museum Development Managers for the North of England.

We asked a number of arts professionals, artists and organisations to nominate artists, writers and performers who they thought would be interested in working in context-specific locations. These nominees were then invited to a day at BALTIC Centre for contemporary art in Gateshead where the museums pitched their offer and artists had a chance to ask further questions in round table conversations.

This Liberty production photograph, with singer Dawn Bothwell. This Liberty by Matt Stokes in collaboration with Richard Dawson at Hexham Old Gaol © Kit Haigh.

This Liberty production photograph, with singer Dawn Bothwell. This Liberty by Matt Stokes in collaboration with Richard Dawson at Hexham Old Gaol © Kit Haigh.

The aim of Meeting Point is to address the question of why museums and contemporary arts should work together. What outcomes have you had from the museums you worked with as part of the first year of the project?

As well as developing unusual commissioning opportunities for artists working in a variety of disciplines, Meeting Point is also about supporting museums to develop the skills and confidence to work with, and commission artists long into the future. It’s very much a learning experience, giving both the artist and the museum the support and guidance they need to create new experiences for their audiences. The feedback we’ve received from participants in the Meeting Point pilot demonstrated the programme can make a huge impact.

We have collated evidence that proves that the process has worked – museums have raised their profiles, visitor numbers have increased and several museums have continued the commissioning process – such as Ripon Museums that raised funds for a second artist commission themselves.

Our visits to artist studios are a really important part of Meeting Point and museums have consistently told us that this was the most illuminating and interesting part of our workshop programme. We have recognised that bringing people together face-to-face where they both hear from each other about their work and approach encourages an understanding of where both sectors can meet and work together. The BALTIC day was also interesting- and presented an alternative way to gaining knowledge about a commission.

Time in the Ice House production photograph, with artist David Appleyard. Time in the Ice House by David Appleyard at Norton Priory Museum and Gardens © Jonathan Turner.

Time in the Ice House production photograph, with artist David Appleyard. Time in the Ice House by David Appleyard at Norton Priory Museum and Gardens © Jonathan Turner.

Works as part of Meeting Point2 include an ice bell, a ghost ship, an investigation into a long lost beer recipe and new Border Ballads about the oldest purpose-built prison in England sung by some of the country’s best folk singers. What sort of challenges have this year’s projects brought up?

Capacity is always a challenge as many of the museums run with part-time staff and a volunteer team – so we add capacity and support where needed, including documentation with photography and film (vital for proving success or future fundraising), Press and PR professionals who liaise with the museums’ communications teams (if they have them).

Supporting artists to ensure they understand the museums’ requirements about audience perceptions.

Making sure all print, publicity is well designed and that museums see this as an opportunity to increase their mailing list.

Ensuring that artists understand that this is a programme of commissions and the importance of networking and joined up social media communication.

 

When can we see the finished commissions? Is there a plan to have Meeting Point3?

Some of the commissions have already happened – others can be seen now and into the New Year. All information about our Meeting Point commissions can be seen by visiting the Arts&Heritage website: www.artsandheritage.org.uk/meetingpoint

Exhibitions you can currently see are:

Arts&Heritage is poised to become a Sector Support Organisation from April 2018  - an NPO of Arts Council England. Within the funds it has raised will be a commissioning programme – Meeting Point3. Details and criteria for museums who wish to be involved will be released later in 2018. Sign up to the Arts&Heritage newsletter to receive more information. www.artsandheritage.org.uk