National Strategy

May 2010

The following report is an update on National Programme activity over the last year, 2009-10. The activity is directed by the Gallery’s National Strategy (2003) and the Gallery’s Corporate Plan. The paper accompanies a proposal for a new National Strategy to take the Gallery to 2015.

The main strands of the National Programme are:

  • Strategic Commissioning
  • Long Term Regional Partners
  • Hub Collaborations
  • Subject Specialist Network
  • Touring Exhibitions
  • Loans

1. Strategic Commissioning (funded by DCMS/DCSF)

The sum of £160,000 was made available for Strategic Commissioning for 2009/10 and 2010/11 with the proviso that funding for the second year would need confirmation depending on the political situation. At the end of March funding was confirmed for 2010/11.

This meant that the three year programme put forward in 2008/9 on the themes of Identity, Celebrity and Achievement was able to go forward. In the first year the Family Album exhibition responded to the theme of Identity and the exhibition and related activities were very successful. It set out a new level of collaboration between partners, with a lead partner for the exhibition selection drawing on partners’ input as well as shared resources and interpretation. Each venue was able to add works to make local connections to people and collections and a shared learning plan gave the structure for partners to customise their own learning programmes.

The second and third year of the programme based on the themes of Celebrity and Achievement built on the collaborative elements of the first year, but with an even stronger focus on collaboration through the learning objectives. Learning activity has been aimed at young people aged 11-19 working with the Collection through exhibitions, programmes and resources, and has also been designed to include input from young people themselves. Young people have been able to explore all aspects of the project from curatorship, interpretation and programmes, to feed into a digital resource. The resource will deliver cross curricular opportunities, focusing on the Creative and Media Diploma for students aged 14-19, supported by skills sharing and continuing professional development opportunities for teachers. The digital resource is due to be launched in September this year.

Exhibitions were related to the themes of Celebrity and Achievement and also formed the case studies for the digital resource. In 2009/10 the selection of the exhibition Comedians: From 1940s to Now was led by Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens and included a filmed introduction and podcast by Paul Merton. The touring exhibition had shared interpretation for example, a listening post with clips of well known comedians and a ‘comedy club’ area. Young people at each venue put on comedy nights as part of the learning programme and were involved in workshops and script writing sessions. The exhibition attracted 112,299 visitors during the tour. The second exhibition Writers of Influence: From Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling was opened in Sheffield by David Bell, Permanent Secretary for the DCSF in April this year. The exhibition was curated by young people in collaboration with colleagues from Museums Sheffield and with input from young people from the other partners’ youth forums. It includes the loan of the Chandos portrait for the first time in the UK. The tour will end in Sunderland at the end of March 2011.

Partners included Museums Sheffield, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery and Southampton Art Gallery.

2. Regional Partners

In 2009, both National Trust partners withdrew from the Strategic Commissioning programme due to the change of its focus. In place of the support for learning, the Gallery agreed to fund a shared learning and engagement programme over a period of three years and the National Trust agreed to fund learning posts at both properties for the same period of time.

Montacute continued the two year display On the Nature of Women: Tudor & Jacobean Portraits of Women in 2009. This was followed by Imagined Lives: Mystery Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery 1520-1640 which launched in March this year. The Gallery worked with Bristol University MA students on the display which included sitters whose identities were uncertain. Internationally renowned authors John Banville, Tracy Chevalier, Julian Fellowes, Terry Pratchett, Sarah Singleton, Joanna Trollope and Minette Walters wrote fictional biographies and character sketches on the lives of the sitters, which were also published in a small book.

Beningbrough Hall’s visiting portraits display in 2009 was Star Gazing: The Development of Astronomy in the 18th Century marking the international year of astronomy. The display included a selection of mezzotints and prints of some of the leading astronomers in the eighteenth century, together with the large oil painting Adam Walker and his family by George Romney. The 18th Century Curator was involved in the interview process for the new Property Manager, Liz Page, on the retirement of Ray Barker.

3. Hub Collaborations

Partnerships with the North East Museums Hub and the South West Museums Hub have continued with collaborations ranging from partners involved in the Strategic Commissioning project, to touring exhibitions and making long terms through the Effective Collections pilot scheme. They have also played a key part in the Subject Specialist Network - Understanding British Portraits, both through involvement on the Steering Group, supporting placements and hosting workshop sessions. The North East Hub entered into a three year agreement to show the Photographic Portrait Prize at the Laing Art Gallery, the Shipley Art Gallery (2010) and next year at the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. Both Museum Hubs helped in the placement of the long term Loans through the Effective Collections scheme with four new long term loans being placed in the South West region.

Future funding of the Government’s Renaissance programme is uncertain, which makes planning difficult, however, this model of partnership has been useful for the Gallery and one which it would like to continue if possible as it offers access to organisations of different sizes and with different remits.

4. Subject Specialist Network

The Network goes from strength to strength with support from the Gallery funding a part time coordinator for the last year. This has enabled an annual seminar to take place as well as targeted workshops. Last year, the annual seminar attracted 80 participants, the Tudor Jacobean workshop had to be moved to the Painters Hall due to the numbers of participants, an Oxford Workshop allowed access to participants to university collections that would normally be unavailable to the public, and the North East Museums Hub hosted a workshop at the Bowes Museum with an emphasis portraiture in the North East. The network now has an informal membership of 600 people, 86 collections are now part of the mapping exercise and 60 participants have signed up to the expertise mapping exercise.

5. Touring Exhibitions

Touring Exhibitions from the Collection: Between June – August 2009 Cecil Beaton, Portraits toured to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and Athletes and Olympians toured to Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum. The latter was an important opportunity for the Gallery to tour some of its digital works for the first time. Charles I: King and Martyr toured to Lyme Park from 27 February 2010. Lyme Park displays a large number of works from the National Portrait Gallery Collection and this is the first exhibition from the Gallery to be shown at this National Trust property.

Touring Exhibitions from the London Programme: As usual, the portrait prizes both toured to venues in the UK. The BP Portrait Award 2009 toured to Southampton City Art Gallery and the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh and the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is currently at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead and will be shown at the New Art Gallery, Walsall later this year. Other exhibitions touring in 2009/10 included Constable Portraits to Compton Verney, and Beatles to Bowie which went to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle and is currently on show at the Castle Museum Norwich.

6. Loans

The Gallery continues to have an active loans programme including short term loans requested by borrowers for exhibitions as well as a long term loans programme. In 2009/10 the Gallery lent 222 works on short term loan to 52 venues and 573 long term loans to 61 venues.

In 2009, the Gallery lent six works to six venues as part of the Effective Collections pilot scheme to encourage national/regional loans. Four of the venues had never borrowed from the Gallery before.

Laura Down
National Programmes Manager
May 2010