Mission, Market, Money? Reflections from the SEMDP’s ‘Creative Commercial Collections’ Study Visit to the Netherlands May 2017 – Day 1: the seminar on the train

As part of our previous (2012-15) programme, my predecessor as Cultural Partnerships Officer, Katerina Kremmida, supported a partnership of museums (Hampshire Cultural Trust, National Motor Museum and Jane Austen’s House Museum) to secure Arts Council England funding for a project ‘Kickstart: Creative Commercial Collections’ to develop commercial opportunities, connecting with the creative economy, working with creative practitioners and businesses from across Hampshire.

The project is now well underway and we agreed with Arts Council that as part of our 2015-18 provision, we would deliver an event to share the learning from this project with other museums. Linking this to our work to encourage museums to work internationally, rather than a conventional sharing seminar I developed an alternative model that would create a very different environment in which to share and discover inspiring practice. And so we offered a study visit to two very different museums in the Netherlands that have interesting practice in creative commercial collections: the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen.

The leads from the three ‘Kickstart: Creative Commercial Collections’ museums were key to making this a success, being the key points of knowledge their museums’ experimentation through the project. All had a strong commitment to sharing their learning to the benefit of the wider museums community and a curiosity to learn about practice elsewhere:

Andrea Bishop, Director of Collections at the National Motor Museum

Gwyneth Campling, Commercial Product Manager with Hampshire Cultural Trust

Ashleigh Stimpson Retail Manager Jane Austen’s House Museum

In addition, we invited applications for the study visit to museums across the South East and South West of England. Applicants had to demonstrate the willingness both the learn and to share. An energetic and enthusiastic group of 12 secured places on the study visit, from a diverse range of museums. We had a great mix, with curatorial, interpretation and commercial specialists:

Emma Ayling, Director of The Priest’s House Museum

Kirsty Bell, Collections Support Officer at Southampton Arts and Heritage

Anna Bowman, Archivist at HMS Warrior, a joint post with University of Portsmouth

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of The Charleston Trust (Bloomsbury in Sussex)

Rosalyn Goulding, Collections & Engagement Manager, St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery

Paul Griffiths, Head of Operations (and Trading Company Managing Director) at the Mary Rose Museum

Valerie Mills, Commercial Director of Brooklands Museum

Louise Musgrove, Commercial Manager at The Lightbox

Sarah Newman, Programmes Officer at Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

On our first day, Tuesday, we met at up at St Pancras International, got through check in, passport control and security (not without its challenges to someone as myopic as me as the new high tech face recognition system requires you to take off your glasses and then follow instructions on a screen which, without glasses, I couldn’t see). Then had half an hour prior to boarding Eurostar, a key opportunity to create connections in the group and help it to gel as a learning community, via a game of People Bingo. I don’t know who first had the idea of People Bingo but I am very grateful to them, it’s an extremely useful tool. In this case, I’d structured the game to focus on people’s Creative Commercial Collections experience, based on information from their applications:

nlbingo

What a great group of people, who really rose to the challenge. Immediately the buzz of conversation and interaction was amazing. And to be frank, it never stopped from that point. Ashleigh was the first to complete her card, shout ‘Bingo’ and win the prize.

nlbingopics

Once on the train, after our (rather surprising on a lunchtime journey) Eurostar light meal of croissant and jam we started the first of our seminar sessions. Apart from one blooper, Eurostar’s advance booking team were pretty obliging in providing groups of table seats to make this work.

All participants had prepared for this element by bringing notes and visual materials to answer the following questions: What have been your museum’s aims in undertaking commercial, creative collaborations? What have you done so far? What have been the results? (Including financial/commercial results e.g. additional revenue generated/costs incurred to your museum) What partnerships have you developed so far? Where have you had support (e.g. funding, advice) from? What has been successful? What has not worked? What are your next steps? What would be your 3 ‘top tips’ for someone trying to do something similar? People used a range of media to make this a really interesting way to travel and learn, bringing flip books, tablets and actual products to show to one another. We revisited these questions 3 times during the trip, and everyone’s commitment to keeping on topic made the train travel very productive learning time. By clustering the ‘not Kickstart’ participants in 3 groups of 3, and circulating the ‘Kickstart’ project reps between them, everyone had a chance to gain from the Kickstart project learning from three different perspectives: Hampshire Cultural Trust, National Motor Museum and Jane Austen’s House Museum – and also to find out about practice in each other’s museums.

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Our train was a bit delayed so we missed our connection in Rotterdam, so it was late and dark by the time we got to Enkhuizen. By this time people were pretty tired after a full day of seminar-ing and changing trains, so the planned walking tour of the historic town was sacrificed in favour of checking in at the friendly Suider See Hotel and getting some dinner. The nearby Onder de Wester Restaurant did us proud on the limited budget I’d negotiated with them! Rather than have a detailed review of learning from the day, I have each person a green sticky note, to write a key learning point from the day on, for discussion at breakfast. This formed the first of 4 ‘leaves’ that would, by the end of the trip, make up each individual’s ‘mini learning log’ and would collectively create a record of the group’s reflections.

The following morning at breakfast, people looked at one another’s green sticky notes and compared key learning points from Tuesday. Here is the collated content of the green sticky notes:

Day 1: peer learning exchange on Eurostar (green)

  • Don’t jump into producing artist work. Get the price right
  • Ensure that the whole museum team especially the curators are involved and on board with the use of collections commercially
  • Licensing is time heavy – needs and takes time to set up. Trial and error with partners – and some won’t work out. Style guide.
  • The importance to sorting out all the legal and other details before rushing into a collaboration.
  • Planning for clear outcomes is essential. Research is never wasted. Collaboration is always a good idea.
  • I’ve learnt how vital commercial partnership is. No organisation will survive without skills across creative and commercial ways of working.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to explore all avenues.
  • Sources of help e.g. ACE Enterprises.
  • Decide your museum’s priorities first (income generation? profile/brand building? collections access/interpretation?) – this determines your approach, partners, products and distribution channels.
  • Just like you need to know your audience, you need to know your market, before producing goods.
  • Employing the right person in retail/commercial roles can impact quickly and very positively.
  • So many museums are without the right skills/experience to exploit the commercial potential of their collections.
  • Commissioning style guide for £3-5k – worth exploring?
  • Need for our new products to have a wider reach/market e.g. wholesale via other channels and using specialist expertise.
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