A proposal for removing barriers to lending and borrowing
Speaker: Charlotte Dew, Professional Development Manager, Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG)
The borrowing of works for exhibitions is a central part of my role as Exhibitions Manager at Drawing Room in London. We have no collection and source and borrow works for each exhibition. These loans come from many locations: directly from artists; from the commercial galleries who represent them; museums; public and private collections. Works come from the UK, from other European countries and beyond. As a team, we are very experienced in acquiring works for loan and rely hugely on using our initiative when collection information is sparse and procedures ambiguous. But what about the first time borrower or lender? How should they navigate all the potential pitfalls that they might face? What might improve the lending and borrowing experience for all of us in our roles as registrars and exhibitions managers?
At ERC18, Charlotte Dew from Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG) focussed on the barriers to lending and borrowing faced most especially, but not exclusively, by those looking to lend or borrow for the first time. Using the findings from TEG’s ‘Lending and Borrowing Experiences Report’ (2017) as a starting point, Dew outlined the barriers, and how through a framework of training, mentoring and small procedural changes these may be removed, resulting in fruitful partnerships that benefit participating institutions, as well as the public through the resulting exhibitions. She argued that change of this nature is only possible when organisations are open to collaboration and that borrowing activity should be considered a partnership, not a transactional activity.[1]




Copyright Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG)



TEG 2017 Lending and Borrow Experiences survey

TEG’s Lending and Borrowing Experiences Survey, provides insight into current lending and borrowing practices. The survey was completed by those working in museums, galleries and cultural organisations throughout the UK from May – July 2017. 
Dew outlined the most common barriers to lending and borrowing. National Museums were found to be the most difficult to borrow from, with procedures described as ‘bureaucratic’ and the ‘least flexible with times.’ 33% of organisations find it difficult to research and access information about suitable objects to borrow. 55% of organisations don’t publish info online, with information made available on request or through word of mouth and reputation. This is certainly in line with my experience. Whilst some collections have very clear lending procedures outlined on their websites, others may not even have a single email contact point available online, with the onus on the borrower to figure it out. This is can be very off putting and according to TEG borrowing activity can be skewed by those who’ve already borrowed or have the connection. 
 
The most common reasons for difficulty are:
  • Finding the right person to speak to. Accessing information can require knowing the right person and having connections
  • Lack of online search tools and information on collection websites
  • Unclear application procedures – 55% of organisations do not publish information on their loans application process, online or on any other platform. They make information available ‘on request’, or ‘through word of mouth and reputation’
  • Variance in notice periods (most commonly 5-6 months)
  • Lack of transparency about informal period of communication and the formal loan application
  • Variance in charging policies across organisations and concealed and unknown costs. These costs can include, administration, condition checking, packing, courier and transit costs
 
TEG’s Survey found that the most common reason for refusal of a loan application, in 53.4% of cases, is that the requested object cannot be lent – it may be committed to another project for example or require conservation. This certainly is consistent with my own experience, in particular with organisations where there is no way to informally inquire if a work might be available or not. It can be a hugely frustrating process, particularly when a lot of time and energy has been spent submitting a loan application.  

 
How to better facilitate lending across the sector
The need for better availability of information about collections and loan policies and standardisation of borrowing procedures is a recurring recommendation by those surveyed. There also is a desire to enable better partnerships through increased transparency and communication. In her presentation Dew outlined six key recommendations for lenders which I have copied directly below:
  • Review your lending processes and procedures, making consideration of the borrower experience
  • Consider how greater standardisation of lending processes and procedures across the sector can contribute to better use of resources and greater access to loans
  • Work towards transparent, available and fair charging structures for lending
  • Work towards transparent, consistent lead-in times for submission of loan requests, making clear the informal discussion period required in advance of the formal application
  • Provide an outline of your loans procedure and the first point of contact for loans enquiries on your website
  • As possible, provide training, resources and funding opportunities to museums who would like to borrow
Mentorship & Training
For those new to borrowing, TEG encourage seeking support and training. They have facilitated this through their Preparing to Borrow programme, supported by Arts Council England, the Art Fund and TESS Demountable. This has involved:
 
  • Face-to-face training, delivered with Art Fund, the Government Security Advisor and Government Indemnity Manager. This has trained 233 museum staff at various UK wide workshops covering areas such as: research and reasons to borrow; meeting security requirements; funding for borrowing; government Indemnity Scheme and Insurance
  • 7 month 1-2-1 mentoring programme for first time borrows with 16 mentees from across English regions working with 6 experiences museum mentors