Susannah Darby, Collections Information Officer, Science Museum
#UKRGMShed: ‘What a saga! Bringing Viking Voyagers to Cornwall’
You might expect to find a family-friendly exhibition showcasing Viking treasures borrowed from Europe’s national museums in major metropolitan museums. But Tehmina Goskar gave an insightful overview of the challenges and opportunities involved in putting on such a show at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, a non-national museum in the Cornish port town of Falmouth. With a stunning waterfront location and the National Small Boat collection to showcase, the museum has made a name for itself as “Britain’s most family friendly museum.”
Tehmina described how the ambitious Viking Voyagers exhibition built on the museum’s existing strengths whilst encouraging the museum to work to even higher standards to ensure that ancient objects borrowed from institutions including the British Museum, Manx National Heritage and the National Museums of Ireland and Denmark received necessary care and security.
Tehmina led us through particular challenges: the key themes that emerged were the value of partnership working and the need for open and clear communication, meticulous planning and investment in infrastructure.
She outlined how, following an assessment by the National Security Advisor, she was able to draw on advice from registrars at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and Tate St Ives, which the museum used to update its buildings and procedures, most notably installing high-definition colour CCTV. The assessment also enabled her to advocate for the museum to update its environmental monitoring systems and she emphasised the universal usefulness of good environmental data.
Indeed, Tehmina described how preparations for the exhibition occasioned a culture change, as she worked to ensure that her colleagues understood nd supported the need to meet lenders’ conditions and also that lenders understood a little about Cornwall and the museum. The exhibition also occasioned a valuable collaboration with the British Museum: Dr Gareth Williams was not only a guest curator but also appeared in Viking dress in exhibition publicity!
Good communication and partnership working enabled the museum to tackle daunting challenges: from ensuring that the cases they invested in met all stakeholders’ requirements and that crated objects would fit in their storage space to navigating the potential minefield of insurance. She vividly described her negotiations with the National Museum of Denmark, who were unable to accept UK Government Indemnity. The museum judiciously drew on the experience of a professional mount maker and an experienced transport agent to supplement their in-house expertise. Successful internal advocacy enabled Tehmina to ensure that there was someone on site to receive late-night deliveries and that the installation site was kept free from other works. Indeed, the gallery has provided an opportunity to engage volunteers in both invigilating the exhibition and engaging visitors in discussions about the amazing borrowed objects.
This was a fascinating case-study of not only how a modest-scale museum can mount a blockbuster style exhibition, but also how such an exhibition can drive culture change and infrastructure investment.