Imagination and resilience: Seven years of New Expressions and museum collaboration with artists

    Imagination and resilience: Seven years of New Expressions and museum collaboration with artists

    By: Claire Gulliver on 20 April 2015

    It’s great to have a good news story in these challenging times for the arts. New Expressions is on something of a roll. I’m privileged to have been there at the start.

    2008 was an odd time in the cultural sector. With economic clouds gathering, MLA had agreed to wind up its regional agencies within the year. Not the best time to be advocating a new initiative to promote collaboration between museums and contemporary artists.

    Having worked in both contemporary arts and museums fields, for me the synergy was obvious. Indeed agencies such as Arts and Heritage and programmes like New Ways of Curating were already developing collaborative practice in the North and the Midlands. And Arts Council rumblings were beginning to hint at a more integrated future for arts and museums.

    Thankfully, the board and management of MLA South West (my employer at the time) shared the vision, welcoming the opportunity to generate a lasting legacy for artists, museums and audiences. And what a legacy it’s turned out to be. Since 2009, New Expressions has enabled 30 museums (and more recently National Trust properties) and 35 contemporary artists to create adventurous and imaginative new work together; work specific to historic collections, spaces and contexts.

    But perhaps the most valuable legacy has been the knowledge and aspiration built up over the seven years of the programme. Creative ambition and best practice were always at the heart of New Expressions. That’s why, rather than enabling new work on an ad-hoc, venue-by-venue basis, we drew together a web of museums, large and small, that would embark upon their collaborative journeys simultaneously. When opportunities to share the experience were limited by the closure of MLA South West, the region’s Renaissance hub museums took up the baton and re-initiated the programme.

    For New Expressions 2, we re-activated the practice development and knowledge exchange work, generating a programme of professional development events and study visits to the best examples of creative collaboration in the South West and further afield. 25 curators, artists and specialists provided expert advice. More than 350 artists, curators and museum professionals took part.

    2015 marks a watershed moment for New Expressions. Building on the impact and experience of the previous iterations, the programme is now examining ways to establish a national approach to collaboration between contemporary artists and museums.

    For the first time, New Expressions 3 brings together members of the national network of Major Partner Museums, the National Trust (Trust New Art) and the Contemporary Visual Art Network. It involves museums, historic houses and artists in the South West, Midlands and North of England.

    A new strand, the New Opportunities Award, is a ‘laboratory project’ to test a model for artist-led collaborations – a missing ingredient from the first two phases of the programme. Also for the first time, a national Live Season; between March and September 2015 sets out to maximise public impact. New Expressions 3 is funded by significant contributions from partners and the National Lottery through Grants for the Arts.

    As a whole, New Expressions has just received a further £50,000 funding boost from Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund.

    Having been involved since the start it’s great to know that, as our current projects engage audiences with events, exhibitions and installations, and we work with artists to invigorate special places, New Expressions can continue to look to the future.

    Image: 'Very Moveable Things' (2009) Edmund de Waal. Commissioned by Cheltenham Art Gallery as part of New Expressions 1. Photo: Alex Caminada

    Leave a comment about this post

    All fields marked with * are required




    (Click here if you wish to receive future information about New Expressions - to find out more about our data usage please read our Terms and Conditions page)

Recent Posts