Monday 9th June morning session 10.45am
This session was a chance to highlight the practical issues of couriering for those who may not yet have gained experience of couriering, or instructing others on the principles of couriering. It was also a chance to share some reminders to all the importance of working together and making couriering simple and cost effective whilst also following best practice.
The Role of the Courier
First up was Thor Nørmark-Larsen, Section Leader Registrar’s Office at the National Gallery of Denmark discussing the role of the courier. He began by identifying the range of stakeholders involved when couriering, starting from the Courier’s perspective.
Courier’s Central Role
The courier is there to ensure the safety of object, with the right to comment and instruct if and when required. They ensure correct handling of the objects according to the lending institution guidelines, monitoring the handling, transport, condition, repair, installing and de-installing throughout the loan process. Importantly, they are also there as an ambassador for the lending institution. They need to be able to find solutions and be flexible whilst having the ability to be firm when required. There is a big difference between being firm and just aggressive and rude!
Tricks of the trade: Important to have documentation and tools to hand when Couriering
It is essential to have a copy of the loan agreement to refer to, especially in case of a dispute. It’s also useful to have to the courier guidelines of the lending institution to hand along with the courier schedule from the transport agent or registrar, list of works, crate list, and the usual all important kit – gloves, flashlight/electric torch, pens and paper, mobile phone with contacts including 1ICE number*, a tablet/iPad or a camera. The Registrar needs to ensure that the courier has a pack with the information about hotels, time of installation, transport, names, if there is a police escort, etc.
*In case of emergency there is a new suggested system for having an emergency contact on your phone: 1ICENameofPartnerNumber (with the international code). There are apps and certain phones you can set to access this information even when the phone is locked. You can put in several numbers and order them 1, 2, 3, etc.
Scoping out the space
When the courier enters the gallery or storage space they consider the general impression of the surroundings including:
• Lux levels and climate – does anything seem wrong or concerning?
• Security – are there guards, cameras, alarm systems, entrance, and exit routes as agreed
• Installation space – is it in proximity of heating systems, pipes, aircon units etc
• Handling – is there anything concerning about the way objects are being handled by staff or contractors
• Tools of construction workers – if works are still going on
• Condition of the objects in the space – make sure that the paperwork is signed off and you are completely happy with the condition
The main focus of the Registrar
A good registrar should always consider from a courier’s point of view – whether they are present or not. They need to ensure the working space has a quiet ambience and people feel secure. They need to make sure that the installation team is updated on the schedule regularly so that they follow it closely and also the agreed procedures. This will allow the courier to feel confident about the install team.
Some may just focus entirely on the condition checking, but in some organisations they can be involved in the installation as well or can even be the role of facilitator with an overview of the exhibition. Important that the courier understands and respects everyone’s role.
The Art Handling
Whoever is responsible for the art handling needs to know the requirements from the Lenders regarding installation in advance – again regular daily meetings were recommended discussing where they will be installing and that the courier’s plans are briefed to the team. Notes and photos of the packing materials are very useful. Also good to have packing tables and tools ready, request to create a clear space and use gloves or alternatives as communicated by the courier.
The loan should be formalised before sending courier. Should also have facilities report/insurance/immunity from seizure/letter of confidence, transport and packing all agreed in advance. There is also the political aspect and thinking about being future partners. Emphasis was placed on the fact that couriers are often necessary, but so is keeping costs as low as possible – and there needs to negotiation.
The Shippers will receive all the work details and work list and will be the contacts regarding couriers and foreign colleagues. They will organise licences/permits required, deal with packing demands and the car/trucks.
Next Thor gave two examples of very different situations in Denmark, a local loan situation and a complicated Matisse exhibition.
With the local incoming loans the Lenders do not expect hotels or per diems. The objects are not covered by National Indemnity but under Danish Government Insurance and agreement by letter. By comparison a major Matisse exhibition meant that National Indemnity was required. Three venues involved with works that were of extremely high value, and so to be a success it was very dependent on good collaboration. They had to consolidate transport and organise police assistance. There were many incoming loans and couriers from all over the world and there was the need to deal with different cultural ideas.
Local example was much simpler situation for registrar but tougher for art handlers and the conservators as they had more to do. Matisse example was tough for everyone involved! Really important to send the right type of courier.
Best Practice when selecting a Courier
Next the question ‘When should we send a courier?’ was raised, and ‘Who chooses?’ Should you send a technician, registrar, curator, conservator or security office? It was a chance to emphasise the need to look at requirements for the objects coming on loan and what is best for them. You shouldn’t always send the same person but think who is best suited to go. Also there is a need to consider training people up regularly rather than relying on the same few people was highlighted. Need to think about experience versus acquiring experience – if it is a stable object then do you just need someone who is well trained but not necessarily very experienced?
So should you always send a courier? Definitely not was the idea put forward. A lot of works don’t need couriers – we really need to think about budgets and be practical. Do you know and trust the institution you are lending to? Do you know that they have professional trained staff? It is easy to say that you always send a courier but it should be discussed internally whether it is necessary. If you are loaning fragile objects then it does make more sense to send a conservator, if there is a potential security risk then a security officer, if there are large and difficult to move/mount objects then an art handler or technician.
Too many couriers could potentially pose a risk working in the space.
Also be fair regarding your requirements – always focus on the condition of the work. Try to keep costs low with length of stay, flights etc. Share couriers where possible but pay attention to the legal responsibility. Lending for Europe – collections mobility report and toolkit. We need a common standard with condition reports, agreements, state guarantee, facilities report, standards for couriers but also need to overcome cultural barriers.
The Nordic Way
Thor continued the session speaking about the Nordic way where they are working together to reduce carbon foot print. They don’t have a formal organisation like the UKRG, there is no president and no fees but instead they hold a meeting every year and change the country who hosts. They are getting more structured but still fluid and flexible in way they work as they find it a good way to build partnerships and relationships. They feel confident to talk about faults and flaws. Thor felt that their similar languages and political ideas also assisted this – they trust each other more then other countries with cultural differences. They have trust in their systems, feeling that they will benefit in the future and they are not out to be tricked by the system or other people, so their politics reflect into their working relationships. There are still issues though, for example Norway is not part of the EU and transport agents have to remember about permits. They can be too relaxed because you know each other – can become lazy about getting information and requests in on time.
Lastly we heard from Kirsi Hiltunen, Senior Conservator at the Finnish National Gallery who outlined their process for training up new couriers.
She started by recommending that new couriers should start their training by working with their own collections and installs of loans in to fully understand how procedures work in their own institution. This also gives them a chance to assist with undertaking condition assessments and reports. It’s important that they get to work with a range of different materials and learn how to deal with these and different types of damage. They should gain a real understanding of how to handle and why gloves are important. Go through holding and lifting habits, and learn the basic packing systems usually used. Pack objects individually and some in multiple, and learn about equipment for lifting and moving – going through difficult routes such as windows and balconies. Need to protect yourself as well as the objects. They’ll also have the opportunity to see different packing techniques from external organisations, crates and equipment. They’ll learn what other couriers demand, act and expect – it’s important to show them incoming paperwork.
A key point to learn is that good documentation is so important – you cannot always trust memory!
Yet again the idea was put forward that the best courier for the job should be chosen according to the object(s), rather then someone wanting to go on a jolly. Always try to find easier trips for their first couriering experience – if a flight is involved then it should be non-stop. If road transport then it might take hours to go over certain boarders so the courier needs to be prepared! Crucial to be flexible and polite. Yes there is a legal responsibility but also need to trust each other. Shared couriers need to make sure that they have all the appropriate paperwork and communicate well – maybe have a formal agreement between the institutions.
Overall some of the same important points kept coming through which are good reminders for all:
• Choose your courier based on the needs of the object.
• Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. We should be working together and try to keep costs and demands low.
• Good communications is key. Politeness and flexible approach helps to maintain a good working relationship.