Main menu

Skip to content

Working Internationally with UK Museums

Join Today

Claire Messenger, ITP Programme Manager (British Museum) reports back on the 2019 Working Internationally Conference

This article was first published on the International Training Programme blog: https://bmtrainingprog.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/claire-talks-itp-at-icom-uk-working-internationally-conference/

Written by Claire Messenger, International Training Programme Manager, British Museum.

I attended – and spoke at – the 7th annual ICOM UK Working Internationally Conference. The conference, the biggest so far, aimed to look at how working together achieves more and I was asked to part of a panel discussion on The Power of Culture & Heritage Networks – more on that later.

The conference took place at the Knowledge Centre at the British Library and included a series of fascinating and informative presentations.

Introducing the conference, the organisers explained how the programme had been put together to look at how museums can be sustainable in a changing world. The sessions identified the need for the culture and heritage sector to be agile, collaborative, to stay informed and up-to-date and provided opportunities to debate, learn, share and network.

Before telling you about the panel discussion, I wanted to share some of my favourite sessions of the day. Lourdes Heredia, Next Day Planning Editor – Languages, from the BBC World Service gave a fantastic – and at times quite moving – introduction to the BBC’s season Crossing Divides.  The project, which begin in 2018, was a multi-platform series that aimed to dispel the sense that the world is becoming more polarised and divided. The programme discovered and presented people and organisations and the techniques they are using to bridge divides – whether these be politics, religion, gender, disability, sexuality, age or beyond.

The programme put people together with different backgrounds, views and experiences and Lourdes shared some of their learning and challenges.

  • The need to create a safe space for people to share their thoughts and to allow a story to ‘breathe’.
  • To encourage those who took part to engage in ‘active listening’.
  • To put aside any prejudices and not consider who was right and wrong.
  • Not to allow outside influences to drive the project or the outcome.
  • To be aware of the impact that these conversations could have on those who took part.
  • To be realistic about what could be achieved.

The stories that Lourdes shared were incredible and you can read, watch and listen to them here – please do – they are amazing and so inspiring.

There was also a fun ‘flash’ session where speakers where given just 5 minutes to present their case study, its outcomes and their learning.

Maria Blyzinksky, Freelance Consultant talked about Brewing Heritage in Malta: transforming a disused brewery into a visitor experience.  Specifically she highlighted the need to stress the importance and value of heritage and culture to the commercial world and how teamwork is key to any project.

Elisa Palomino, Central St Martins (UAL) presented on the V&A, Cristobal Balenciaga Museum and CSM project Promoting the educational function of museum collections and archives where a group of Central St Martin’s students visited the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum for inspiration and shared the outcomes both online and in a fashion show Fashion in Motion.

Pip Diment from Amguedffa Cymru – National Museum Wales talked about their show Kizuna: Japan / Wales / Design and shared lessons learnt including the benefits of careful advance planning and the use of translators to ensure all parties fully understood the project and their role.

Finally, Andrew Manley, Historic Environment Scotland presented Romantic Scotland in China: Understanding audiences, enhancing diplomacy, maximising partnership. He looked at the analysis and learning they gained from an exhibition that took Scottish cultural heritage to China.  Through focus groups (including children aged 6 – 8), a specially designed tracking app, postcard comments, a graffiti wall and a video booth, the project was able to reflect on its successes and challenges.

The panel discussion I took part in gave the three presenters – Julia Pagel, Secretary General, NEMO (Network of European Museum Organisations), Ella Snell, Manager, Living Knowledge Network, British Library and myself the opportunity to introduce our programmes and then answer a series of questions on The Power of Culture & Heritage Networks.  The questions posed included those below and there were some very interesting – and similar – benefits and challenges raised.

  • What do you see as some of the unique benefits of working within your networks that you wouldn’t get if you were not a part of them?
  • How can projects like NEMO, the ITP and the Living Knowledge Network work together?
  • What are the basic principles of networking? What makes a network work?
  • What can networks do to support smaller museums and libraries that are dealing with dwindling resources?

But learning aside, it was a wonderful opportunity to catch-up with some current and former ITP programme colleagues. I was delighted to see Shezza Rashwan, International Engagement Manager at the British Library who previously worked on the ITP; Tim Corum, Director, Curatorial & Public Engagement and Margaret Birley, Keeper of Musical Instruments, both from the Horniman Museum and Gardens and Maria Regan, Director, St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery previously Manager of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Brexit: Latest update for museums on loans, customs, VAT

Customs and loans between museums

The European Commission has just published guidance on customs, which can be found here.


The returned goods section on page 13 is the most relevant part for loans between museums. This means that Returned Goods Relief can be claimed in a no deal scenario even if the UK leaves the EU after the goods have arrived and before they are returned.


HMRC no deal Brexit advice

HMRC has issued this letter to VAT-registered businesses trading with the EU and/or the rest of the world. It explains actions to take to prepare for changes to customs and VAT procedures, if the UK leaves in a no-deal scenario:

  • getting a UK Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number
  • Transitional Simplified Procedures for customs
  • customs facilitations
  • moving goods within the EU using the Common Transit Convention
  • further controls for exports
  • changes to accounting for VAT
  • VAT registration checks
  • EU VAT refunds


Import VAT

If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, from 11pm GMT on 29 March 2019, businesses registered for VAT in the UK will be able to account for import VAT on their VAT return rather than pay when, or soon after, the goods arrive at the UK border.

Accounting for import VAT

Guidance for visitors to the UK if there is a no deal Brexit

If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, what visitors will need to enter the UK will not change until 2021.

  • It will continue to be visa-free for EU nationals visiting the UK;
  • What they need to show at the UK border will not change, even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal (EU nationals can still use ID cards in short term, and use e-gates when travelling on passports);
  • In no deal EU nationals can still visit/work/study in the UK for up to 3 months, then apply for European temporary leave to remain for 36 months etc.



Flights from the EU to the UK

Measures put forward by the UK and the EU will ensure that flights can continue in any scenario; deal or no deal. This reaffirms the fact that passengers can book flights with confidence, as normal.  The measures will last until the end of March 2020 (or sooner if alternative arrangements are put in place in the meantime); during this time negotiations will be undertaken on permanent future air services agreements.

Flights protected in no deal Brexit scenario

Air services from the EU to the UK


UK nationals travelling to the EU

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have also published guidance for UK travellers travelling to the EU. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/uk-nationals-travelling-to-eu-essential-information

Google unveils online science exhibition featuring objects from over 100 museums worldwide

This article was first published online by the Museums Association: https://www.museumsassociation.org/museum-practice/new-practice/13032019-google-unveils-online-science-exhibition?utm_campaign=1437746_15032019&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Museums%20Association&dm_i=2VBX,UTDE,27LJTU,370DO,1

Google Arts & Culture has launched an immersive online exhibition featuring more than 200,000 objects related to scientific invention and discovery.

Google worked with with 110 partners across 23 countries to create Once Upon a Try, which is available via its website or app.

US space agency Nasa and the Cern scientific research centre in Switzerland were involved, as were more than 100 museums, including the Science Museum in London and world war two codebreaking site Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

Visitors to the site can explore Nasa’s archive of 127,000 images using a new storytelling tool called Nasa’s Visual Universe.

Artefacts include a collection of 100 notes and letters by Albert Einstein, which have been photographed in high resolution and brought online for the first time, and Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, which is in the collection of the National Museums Scotland.

Projects featured include 1001 Inventions, a UK-based organisation that highlights scientific and cultural achievements from Muslim civilisation from the 7th century onwards.

Google Arts & Culture, which was set up in 2011, features more than 1,800 cultural institutions from 80 countries.


Algeria’s antiquities museum looted during massive protests

This article was first published by Euronews online: https://www.euronews.com/2019/03/09/algeria-s-antiquities-museum-looted-during-massive-protests

After a mostly peaceful protest on Friday by hundreds of thousands of Algerians the museum of antiquities and a primary school in the capital Algiers were set on fire.

Some of the museum’s artefacts were looted – the culture ministry said criminals and not the protesters were to blame.

The protesters want their ailing and absent eighty two year old president to step down.

But Abdelaziz Bouteflika insists he’ll stand for a fifth term in power, even though he remains in hospital in Geneva for unspecified medical treatment.

His only concession, that he’ll stand down after just a year if he wins the election in April.

On Thursday he issued his first warning to protesters, saying the unrest, now entering its third week, could create chaos in the oil- and natural gas-producing North African country.

Algerians, desperate for jobs and angry at unemployment, corruption and an elderly elite seen as out of touch with the young, have taken to the streets since Feb. 22

The protesters have made every effort to demonstrate peacefully – many of them remember the brutal civil war in the nineties which killed two hundred thousand people.

Some clashes between youths and police broke out on Friday evening and state media said 110 protesters and 112 policemen had been hurt in the unrest.

There were also protests in Paris and other French cities.

President Bouteflika’s government is run by members of the National Liberation Front party or FLN. They’re dominated by ageing veterans of the independence war against France which ended in 1962.

But a few cracks in their hold on power are appearing – there are reports that some of the FLN’s lawmakers have resigned.

Joint statement/call ICOM-ICOMOS for the immediate repeal of the classification of nitrogen as a biocidal active substance for cultural heritage preservation applications across the EU

In reference to the REGULATION (EU) No 528/2012 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 22 May 2012, concerning the making available on the market and use of biocidal products.

Nitrogen is included in Annex I of the Regulation above, however restricted to uses in limited quantities in ready-for-use canisters. This restriction needs to be removed and the possibility for nitrogen to be authorised as a biocidal product through the simplified authorisation procedure, as nitrogen plays a vital role in eliminating insect infestation on cultural heritage objects, movable or immovable.

Over the past decades, more and more museums and cultural heritage institutions in Europe have turned away from potentially hazardous chemical control to an Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

IPM uses anoxia or modified/controlled atmospheres for treatment with a very low oxygen atmosphere in a chamber or tent with the aim to eliminate insect infestation on cultural heritage objects, movable or immovable, in all stages of development. Different modified/controlled atmospheres include inert gases (for example nitrogen, helium, argon) and carbon dioxide, where nitrogen is the most frequently used gas.

The displacement of atmospheric oxygen is a well-established method, there is no equivalent alternative in terms of preservation care and human health, for both staff and visitors of cultural heritage institutions. The procedure is included in the European Standard EN 16790:2016 Conservation of Cultural Heritage – Integrated pest management (IPM) for protection of cultural heritage. IPM is currently being used globally, it is more sustainable and reduces considerably the risks for the heritage objects and for the professionals dealing with them.

Many institutions have invested in own treatment chambers for anoxic disinfestation, for both prophylactic or acute pest elimination. With the extension of a mandatory registration of on-site generated nitrogen from September 2017 by the biocidal products regulation EU 528/2012 these facilities can no longer be operated. As a result, the cultural heritage institutions are faced with the acute danger that cultural heritage may be damaged or irretrievably lost, or that traditional organo-chlorine biocides may experience an undeserved revival.

In summary, the nitrogen ban is not justified for health aspects. It is bad for the cultural heritage conservation community to have less choices for treatment interventions, with the anoxic treatment being among the most compatible with many materials and objects. Finally, the ban is also economically damaging the market of European stakeholders in the IPM business, favouring less sustainable and riskier treatments.

Therefore, ICOM and ICOMOS jointly call upon the National Ministries, the European Parliament and Council, to repeal as soon as possible the classification of nitrogen as a biocidal active substance across the European Union. We advocate for a solution in which the use of nitrogen for this specific purpose in cultural heritage preservation is ratified for the entire European Union.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is the only international organization of museums and museum professionals. It is committed to the research, conservation, continuation and communication to society of the world’s natural and cultural heritage, present and future, tangible and intangible.

ICOM is a membership association and a non-governmental organization which establishes professional and ethical standards for museum activities. As forum of experts, it makes recommendations on issues related to cultural heritage, promotes capacity building and advances knowledge. ICOM is the voice of museum professionals on international stage and raises public cultural awareness through global networks and co-operation programs.

ICOM facts and figures (December 2018)

40,860 professionals in 138 countries, 120 National Committees, 30 International Committees

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. It is the only global non-government organization of this kind, which is dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage.

ICOMOS is a network of experts that benefits from the interdisciplinary exchange of its members, among which are architects, historians, archaeologists, art historians, geographers, anthropologists, engineers and town planners.

The members of ICOMOS contribute to improving the preservation of heritage, the standards and the techniques for each type of cultural heritage property: buildings, historic cities, cultural landscapes and archaeological sites.

ICOMOS facts and figures (February 2019)

10,546 Individual Members in 151 countries, 271 Institutional Members, 107 National Committees, 28 International Scientific Committees

Report and toolkit on making international collaboration between inequal partners fairer

DutchCulture gathered 40 international experts in Amsterdam to discuss values and practicalities of fair(er) international cultural cooperation.

This closed meeting at Broedplaats Lely in Amsterdam followed the publication of the toolkitBeyond Curiosity and Desire: Towards Fairer International Collaborations in the Arts earlier in 2018, by IETM with On the Move and DutchCulture, focused on issues influencing expectations and engagement in international and intercultural activities.

As a next step in addressing the points raised by the toolkit, the meeting aimed at offering an opportunity for funders and institutions to discuss and exchange their perspectives, as well as develop shared intelligence to move forward in embedding such practices in our respective organisations and ways of working. The focus of this meeting were the conventions and practical issues in funding international activities, which can be summed up as follows:

Mutual understanding
– We acknowledge the overall context is unequal, making international cultural cooperation unequal a priori.
– We strive for transparency and sustainability to resolve unfair and unequal cooperation.
– Feedback needs to be cherished and serves funding organisations to create a flexible architecture.
– We work with each other rather than for each other.
– We need a humble attitude at the core of developing fair programs, funding and collaborations.

Practical recommendations
– Set the example – be an inclusive and reflective organisation. Practice what you preach.
– Be flexible – there is no one-size-fits-all in funding and international cooperation.
– Reach out – proactively cater to audiences that normally might not apply.
– Give true agency – trust those you collaborate with.
– Evaluate in honesty – do not predetermine the results.
– Be aware of language – be more inclusive in your communication.
– Include politics – rules and regulations curb fairness.

As DutchCulture we will continue to work on understanding fair international cultural cooperation and create tools to distribute shared intelligence and ways of implementing practical frameworks. The gathering in 2018 functions as a blueprint to organise follow ups and discuss the topic with a range of professionals with different perspectives. This way we hope to identify universal values and conflicting perspectives in order to address those in detail.

In 2019 we will organise a new day to contemplate issues involving shared heritage.

The full report can be downloaded at https://dutchculture.nl/sites/default/files/atoms/files/DutchCulture%20report%20-%20Fair%20International%20Cultural%20Cooperation%202018.pdf

Read more about the toolkit 

Anxiety deepens over risk of no-deal Brexit

This article was written by Rob Sharp and first published on the Museums Association website: https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news-analysis/01032019-anxiety-grows-over-risk-no-deal-brexit

Museums and other arts organisations continue to prepare for the risk of a no-deal Brexit and warn of a continuing lack of clarity, risks to staffing and potential supply chain disruption.

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association (MA), says: “The thing that concerns me most about Brexit – deal or no deal – is the impact on the communities that museums serve.

“We are, of course, concerned about EU staff that work here, supply chain disruption and the impact on tourism and funding. But the debate about leaving has been extremely divisive, and the public are rapidly losing faith in politicians and those that claim to represent them.

“Museums can play a critical role in exploring identity and place, and are uniquely placed to provide context for some of these contentious discussions.
“When the public and civic realm is shrinking, museums can be welcoming places to heal divides and forge new and interesting partnerships.”

An MA statement on the potential damage of a no-deal Brexit says: “We’re concerned about the prospect of further museum closures, reduced opening hours, staff cuts and a reduced public offer at precisely the time when communities need museums and the powerful role they can play in society most.”

Arts Council England (ACE) has published a guide to help arts and cultural organisations identify the government information they will need in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Laura Dyer, ACE’s deputy chief executive, places and engagement, says: “It is important that arts and cultural organisations are prepared for the possibility of a no-deal scenario. As the development body for the arts, museums and libraries, we want to do all we can to help them do that.”

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, organisations would no longer receive funding under EU programmes such as the European Regional Development Fund.

ACE recommends institutions advise EU staff to register for the government’s settlement scheme, to allow them to continue working in the UK.

Ulster University and the Irish Museums Association published a report last year recommending an audit of Brexit’s potential impact on the workforce, funding, policy, planning and practice, training and partnerships.

Interview with Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi about the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

ICOM UK member Luigi Galimberti interviews Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi about the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi is Programs Manager of the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, and has over 8 years of experience in the creative arts sector. He was a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow, 2017 International Society for the Performing Arts Fellow and 2018 Tate Intensive Fellow.

Luigi Galimberti is Collection Care Research Manager at Tate, London, and a Board Member (Non-Executive Director) of Res Artis, the world’s largest membership-based network of artist residencies.


Luigi: What is the Amagugu International Heritage Centre (AIHC)?

Butholezwe: The AIHC provides a venue and organises a variety of cultural and educational programmes for the public to learn and appreciate different facets of indigenous heritage, history and cultural context. AIHC researches on, documents and promotes tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage to develop and enrich the consciousness of the people about their cultural heritage and foster respect for cultural identities. AIHC houses a museum with rotational exhibitions that showcase pictures and artefacts from pre-colonial Zimbabwe. The Centre also provides participatory cultural activities such as traditional games, dance and music, basket weaving, pottery making and mountain climbing. AIHC was accredited by UNESCO as an NGO advisor in 2018.

Rural home painted using natural soil pigments. Art works often depict flora, fauna and rural chores.

Rural home painted using natural soil pigments. Art works often depict flora, fauna and rural chores.

Luigi: Whose stories are you preserving and whom are you telling them to?

Butholezwe: AIHC researches, documents and promotes selected pre-colonial tangible and intangible cultural heritage elements of the Ndebele ethnic group in Zimbabwe. This distinction is a means of tracing the evolution of cultural practices, traditions and beliefs of the Ndebele minority group in Zimbabwe. The primary target audience for the exhibitions and activities are institutions of learning – primary, secondary and tertiary. Program design and implementation is conceptualised with the desire to support informal heritage education. The AIHC targets the general public and local and international tourists as secondary audiences.


Luigi: Is there a difference in function, meaning and (non-monetary) value between tangible and intangible heritage in the Ndebele culture? How do you deal with this in your museum?

Butholezwe: The AIHC considers intangible heritage as more significant in that it informs and influences tangible cultural expressions. While we endeavour to display physical artefacts and art works from a pre-colonial Ndebele past, a significant component of the learning experience is framed around providing spiritual and perceptive explanations of physical objects, cultural practices and traditions. The Ndebele, like many other African communities, relied (and still do) more on oral intergenerational transmission of knowledge, a phenomenon evident in the comparatively limited number of monuments in Africa compared to the western world. Africans are more spiritual (intangible) and the Ndebele are no exception.


Luigi: What future would you like to see for the Amagugu International Heritage Centre and the communities around it?

Butholezwe: A vibrant cultural facility that is the preferred congregational space for enhanced understanding of Ndebele history, culture and heritage. The Centre seeks to engender pride in local culture among local communities and create avenues for pursuit of livelihood options in the arts, culture and heritage sectors.

Luigi: How does your centre involve new generations of artists in its activities?

Butholezwe: At AICH, in 2019 we will diversify to digital documentation and promotion of cultural heritage, a significant departure from the current physical forms of documentation, and expand the range of our cultural products and services to the digital space. AIHC seeks to engage video makers, graphic artists and animators to transmit Ndebele cultural heritage and facilitate online distribution for an expanded international audience.


Luigi: What is your experience of taking part in exchange and fellowship programmes for museum professionals?

Butholezwe: The greatest benefit from an exchange program is the opportunity to build relations with fellow artists and cultural managers. It is always fascinating to share experiences from our diverse geographic contexts, to realise the strong asymmetries and attendant divergencies. Insight into contemporary thoughts and global trends is an asset to a cultural manager such as myself. But like any other worthwhile initiative with inherent structural deficiencies, a fellowship program can be a ball of energy and high stakes motivation that however does not extricate one from their everyday lived reality. The political and economic fundamentals in Zimbabwe, a country on the precipice, tend to stifle creativity.


Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi, Programs Manager, Amagugu International Heritage Centre, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe