UK museums are involved in a huge range of projects and partnerships with organisations all over the world. International activity includes:
- Loans and touring exhibitions, both going out from the UK and coming in
- Partnership working to share skills and expertise
- Joint research and conservation projects
- Involvement in international showcase events such as expos and biennales
- Working with artists, schools and communities
- Providing advice to organisations overseas establishing new museums, or improving existing facilities.
Much of UK museums’ international work is based around their collections. Some of the most comprehensive and internationally important collections of natural history, archaeology, technology, art, literature and design are held by UK museums - and so these world collections tell world stories. In May 2016, NMDC worked with the British Council to produce a guide to collections held in UK museums to help potential international partners realise the breadth and scope of what UK museums do. A Wealth of Treasures was launched at the British Embassy in Washington.
UK museums have a long history of working in partnership overseas and continue to do so to maintain their preeminence. However, this activity can have a wider impact beyond the cultural output. Museums have a role in economic growth and investment, cultural exchange, the preservation of memory and the exploration of identity, and diplomacy.
British Council India launched Museums and Galleries: UK-India Opportunities and Partnerships in October 2014. The UK element of the research was conducted by the NMDC. The document provides a comprehensive overview of both the Indian and UK museum sectors, some case studies, and a digest about 160 Indian organisations and 58 UK museum services. If a UK museum is interested in developing links with their Indian counterparts (or visa versa), then this is a good reference tool as it helps to identify potential suitable partner organisations.
The British Council report India Matters provides an introduction to the wider context of educational and cultural relations, and is a helpful reference.
Can museums and galleries save UK diplomacy? Soft power in turbulent times.
Tickets are now on sale for the 2020 Working Internationally Conference on Thursday 12 March at Leeds Art Gallery.
The 2020 Working Internationally Conference will examine the variety of ways in which museums and galleries create and influence soft power. We will hear from a range of representatives from museums and galleries, government agencies and NGOs to understand the interplay between policy, business and culture in the shaping of diplomacy. The conference will also explore the relationship between soft power and museum sector issues such as decolonization and digital engagement.
The NMDC paper World Collections illustrates the breadth of museums' international work and explores its wider impact. UK museums are able to build on long-standing international relationships and the stories which can be told by objects in their collections, to deliver work which has an impact on every region of the world. This ranges from sell-out touring exhibitions to ground-breaking scientific research, staff exchange programmes and relationship-building in regions where government relations face challenges. Museums upload details of their international work onto the Culture Diary and A Wealth of Treasures (produced by NMDC and the British Council) shows the breadth of UK collections.
Read more and download the paper
NMDC works in partnership with ICOM-UK to organise an annual Working Internationally Conference.
Working with Higher Education Institutions
Museums work in partnership with Higher Education Institutions, both in Britain and overseas, to deliver aspects of their international activity. Universities may be partners in academic research, help deliver training and capacity building, or be collaborators on producing teaching and study materials or activities. University academics may lend their expertise as guest curators or to document parts of a museum's collection, or help broker partnerships between an UK and overseas museum.
UK Higher Education International Unit provides information, networking and advocacy for international work involving UK Higher Education Institutions.
Since 2014, NMDC has been a partner in the Working Internationally Regional Project: an Arts Council England-funded initiative to develop greater confidence and capacity amongst a wider group of museums to work internationally.
The Resources section of the ICOM-UK website contains a wealth of information, case studies and guidance articles to help inform museums' international work. To access the resources, see here.