Celia Joicey, Head of the Fashion & Textile Museum in London travelled to Montpellier in France with a WIRP Travel Grant in December 2016. This is the report from her visit.
The visit highlighted essential details about the history of the exhibition: how and why it was initiated and the respective roles of the different curators, lenders and copyright holders. All of this information is crucial for the exhibition to be articulated correctly in the UK and for its successful interpretation. Yet, understandably, none of this detail was in the exhibition sales information received prior to the visit.
Seeing the exhibition from the perspective of the visitor, and observing the flow and interest of visitors with a critical eye, was helpful when considering the design for London.
Meetings with the exhibition organiser in Montpellier proved extremely beneficial in enabling the museum team to focus on the practical details involved with transportation, the layout and hang of the exhibition. Difficulties involving image copyright for press and marketing brought to our attention by the Montpellier team have highlighted the need for a longer critical path to realise press and marketing successfully.
Additionally, the Fashion and Textile Museum visited the Tourist Information Office, the Musee Fabre and met with a local journalist to discuss the reception of the exhibition, how it had been received by the city and the ways in which the local community connected with it. We also saw the promotion for the exhibition on banners in the city, which highlighted new marketing opportunities to explore.
The Fashion and Textile Museum has experience of touring a few exhibitions internationally. However the Museum has not yet brought a French exhibition to the UK. As a jointly-curated show, the opportunity to bring the Louise Dahl Wolfe exhibition to London has immediately introduced us to three new international partners and publishing contacts: Montpellier in France, La Fabrica in Spain and CCP (Centre for Creative Photography) in the US; and in terms of the exhibition catalogue La Fabrica, Hazan and Aperture. The discussions following the visit have already helped to develop new international working relationships.
New knowledge gained include experiencing an exhibition tour for partially-sighted visitors. This was remarkable and impressive, involving 3D recreations of key Louise Dahl Wolfe photographs and insightful verbal descriptions about key works on display. This is not something currently offered at the Fashion and Textile Museum but it is something we have learned from and hope to programme in future.
The benefits of bringing a ready-made exhibition to London is that we have a much longer timeframe in which to successfully realise the interpretation and communication of the exhibition to both our existing and to new audiences.
As a small team, it is often hard to have enough information – particularly an object list and press images – sufficiently far ahead to meet press deadlines.
La Fabrica’s experience in producing exhibitions at an international level offers huge benefits to our Museum and we hope that this will strengthen our knowledge of how to tour our own exhibitions in future.
The next steps following the visit include signature of contract and payment for the exhibition. At a team level we have already shared the exhibition catalogue and photographs with the team to start thinking about their respective roles in developing our visitor targets, communication strategy, learning programme, marketing opportunities, retail range and other Key Performance Indicators.
The selection of press and marketing images is going to be key to the successful interpretation of the exhibition to a UK audience. To this end, the museum is now looking to enhance the exhibition with a parallel display of Louise Dahl Wolfe’s published work in the UK – specifically in Harper’s Bazaar – including her portraits of UK subjects. A new longer critical path has been established to help realise this successfully, with graphic design to be commissioned by March and the initial exhibition announcement in April.
The opportunity to see the exhibition a year before it opens in London has inspired ideas about how to realise it successfully in a new context and, crucially, it has enabled us to share this knowledge, understanding and infectious enthusiasm with colleagues.
“The opportunity for the Fashion and Textile Museum team to travel to France with the WIRP Travel Grant has helped identify opportunities for the team to develop an international partnership between the UK, France, Spain and America, which in due course will enable our museum to fulfil its mission in a more global context. Specific benefits of the visit include practical details such as how to display the exhibition in London and the opportunity to benchmark key performance indicators for the exhibition i.e. visitor numbers with an overseas partner for the first time; as well as peer-to-peer insights and audience development opportunities. These benefits are invaluable in helping the exhibition transfer successfully between the different countries, and growing the audience for all three museums and the key lender internationally.”
Julia Bollam, Director, Centre for Innovation and Partnerships, Newham College London