ERC 2018 Touring exhibitions. From agreement to exhibition
Valerie Haerden (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Belgium), Marieke Ensing (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Netherlands)

In 2000’s following austerity cuts the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium started a programme of touring exhibitions. These exhibitions are generally organised and curated by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and are loaned out internationally. Organising exhibitions for different locations has several challenges, however, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium have organised a programme which ensures that each exhibition can be delivered smoothly, and utilises every department within the museum.

Each exhibition is drawn wholly from their own collection, providing their curators with a chance to research different parts of the collection and increase access to it. This is particularly relevant to Belgium as a relatively small country, also as a national collection, touring outside their country helps to build international partnerships. In order to ensure the effectiveness of the loan, all the museum’s departments are available to support the borrower, this includes Marketing and Learning teams. Another, previously unforeseen benefit to these international loans, is an increased awareness of how the National Collection relates differently to international cultures, history and social practices. 

Organising: The process starts with the Director liaising with the borrower, it is decided what level of input the borrower would like, whether this is a commissioned exhibition, or a collaboration. Once this is done, project teams are created with their own deadlines and budgets. It is here that certain teams may alter their hours of working to best match the borrower, enabling smooth and consistent communication.

For the most part the works included in the exhibition are chosen by the Curator of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, however, sometimes an external Curator is used, with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium Curator then acting as an expert content advisor. The works selected are then assessed by the Conservators to ensure they are in a good enough condition to travel. At this point some works are dropped due to conservation needs. Any items that are on display are identified and replacements organised for the duration of the touring exhibition. At the same time the Registrar would get estimates for transport costs from transporters, this process will normally take 1-2 weeks. Once chosen the transporters will then liaise with the Depot staff to organise crates etc. 

Packing: The Depot staff will organise a fitting session before the works are due to leave the storage site. This allows them to ensure they have everything they need beforehand and is invaluable when dealing with a large number of items to be packed and transported together.

Transport: Large amounts of items will travel at once, however, ideally a whole touring exhibition will be split cross multiple transports. This is to minimise the risk to the items and needs to be factored in to courier times, as it will be a multi-day job. Courier’s are sent with every loan to supervise transport, unpacking/packing and installation.

Written by Nikki Foster, Collections Management Assistant, Lakeland Arts