Managing Risk to Objects

William Brown is National Security Adviser at Arts Council England, responsible for assessing security risks to National Collections and loans under the terms of the UK Government Indemnity Scheme. He is a member of the ICMS (International Committee on Museum Security), the Metropolitan Police Arts and Antiques Security Group, the National Museums Security Group, and the International Police Association.

The following are frequently asked questions from potential international lenders in the UK who are unsure of what they should do or can do.

Q. When planning a loan to an international venue, how do I start?

A. Ensure that your Director or Senior Manager is aware of the request as someone at the appropriate level of the organisation will need to agree and authorise the loan. In some instances, the loan might have to be agreed by a committee or by the trustees.

Q. What is a Loan Notification Form and do I have to complete one?

A. A Loan Notification Form is a document that provides key information about any loans going out of the UK. It includes reference numbers, contact details for both the lending and borrowing institutions, information on the object, and specific details about the loan. All national institutions are required to send a completed form to the National Security Advisor who will then make an assessment. It is not mandatory for non-national museums to follow this procedure; however it is advisable for them to do so. The National Security Advisor holds information on the loan history and the security of over 3000 international venues, so there’s a good chance that the borrowing venue’s security and risk levels have already been established. To request a Loan Notification Form email:

Q. How do I know the venue approaching us is genuine?

A. You should have all of the venue details from the completed Loan Notification Form. From this you can use the internet to verify whether the venue exists and even to look at the location on a mapping application, such as Google Earth. A mapping application could give you an idea of the building and other local aspects, for example if it is in the middle of a wooded area or heath (potential fire risk) or if it is next to a river or water course (potential flooding risk).

Q. How can I obtain the venue information I need to consider the loan request, without spending time and money to visit the venues?

A. You can get most of the venue information you need by requesting the borrower to complete a Facilities Report, a Security Supplement, and a Display Case Supplement (if required), which are issued by the United Kingdom Registrars Group’s (UKRG). This set of documents asks pertinent questions and will enable you to assess the practicalities of making a loan as well as to identify potential problems. The American Alliance of Museums also has a Standard Facilities Report, which contains a lot of information, including an appropriate list of contacts at the venue and a list of previous lenders.

Q. Can I contact past lenders?

A. Yes – if you are uncertain about any aspect of lending then a personal contact and reference from a past lender can be reassuring.

Q. This venue has never borrowed objects internationally or has never borrowed objects at all before. What should I do?

A. Follow a process – find out if they exist and ask them to complete a Facilities Report and Security Supplement. Once you have obtained this information, contact the National Security Advisor for advice and guidance.

Q. How can I ensure the objects I send will be safe in transit?

A. Use a reputable transport agent who is experienced in handling museum and gallery collections, and who has experience of packing collection objects for international transport. The Government Indemnity Scheme, Annex E has a list of conditions that can be used as guidelines for good practice. Ensure the selected transport agent gives you a written undertaking in which they formally agree to meet your requirements and set out how each requirement is to be met. For example, not all countries have tarmacked roads, and a bumpy journey has the potential to damage objects if they are not suitably packed.

Q. Can I send objects through the post?

A. You are responsible for the protection of the collection objects in your care. Sending objects by post, even via an insured international courier service, might not be the most appropriate international transport option. It will depend on the nature and size of the object, and its own risk factors. Is it delicate and fragile, is it made of precious metals or stones? The method of packing and transport needs to be considered, e.g. whether the object will be appropriately cased or packed if sent by post.

Cars and taxis can be used to transport objects but should always be supervised by a least one lender courier and never be left unattended. Do think about the environment and environmental issues when taking objects outside of their usual home.

It is common for a lender to send a courier to ensure the safe passage of the object through ports, airports, etc. This expense should be addressed as part of your loan agreement and should be paid for by the borrower. Further information on transporting international loans, both in and out, can be found in David Packer’s article on international loans.

Q. Are there areas of the world that I cannot lend to?

A. This is a matter for individual consideration and a visit to the FCO website may provide guidance. Always be aware of the culture of the destination of your loan, and possible tensions that your object may provoke. If your object is stolen, lost, or damaged when on loan, do consider the reputational risk not only to your venue but to the wider sector.

Q. Who can guide me if I need help?

A. There are a number of sources, but peers are often the best source of advice and support. Most national and larger regional organisations have a registrar with experience of international loans. The Touring Exhibitions Group (TEG) is a membership organisation whose online handbook includes information on sending objects abroad as part of international touring exhibitions. The Visual Arts Department of the British Council, London may be able to provide general guidance, and its overseas offices should be able to provide country-specific advice or information on local venues.