Hartwig Fischer and Geoff Woodward standing outside Arbeia South Shields’ Roman Fort

Creating inspiring national partnerships

By Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum

Publication date: 12 July 2019

Director Hartwig Fischer writes about his visit to some of the Museum's National Partners and how the Museum collaborates with institutions all around the UK.

Creating inspiring national partnerships

Recently I had the pleasure of travelling to meet a number of our National Partners in the North of England and the Midlands, following my initial trip to the North East shortly after I joined the British Museum in 2016. It was wonderful to visit many great institutions and to meet inspiring colleagues. Our work around the UK through the National Programmes enables us to share our collection, as well as knowledge and expertise with a wider audience. This sharing process works both ways, as we frequently benefit from the strength of our partners’ expertise and collections by borrowing objects for our temporary exhibitions, the exchange has led to some fantastic collaborations with the insights learnt from skill-sharing.

Hartwig Fischer, Iain Watson and Bill Griffiths inside Arbeia South Shields’ Roman Fort
Hartwig Fischer, Iain Watson and Bill Griffiths at Arbeia South Shields’ Roman Fort © Scarlet Butterfly Media

The week began on Tuesday with a highly informative and productive meeting with Newcastle University colleagues at the Great North Museum, set up by Iain Watson (Director of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums), to talk about academic and research partnerships. It was also wonderful to visit our Partnership Gallery focusing on Ancient Egypt and to see the large numbers of children visiting the museum. That evening, I had the pleasure of taking part in a public conversation at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields with Iain Watson and Bill Griffiths, where we discussed the importance of engaging with communities and the long and fruitful partnership with the British Museum. Iain and his team have ambitious plans to realise the full potential of Arbeia and the nearby Segedunum Roman Fort as part of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site and it was great to discuss all of this with Councillor Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council.

Hartwig Fischer and Geoff Woodward standing outside Arbeia South Shields’ Roman Fort
Hartwig Fischer and Geoff Woodward at Arbeia South Shields’ Roman Fort © Scarlet Butterfly Media

It is clear that investment in these heritage sites will benefit local communities and the economy by attracting more tourism to the area. We have been delighted to play our role so far in supporting their plans and the next day I met with councillors to hear about these exciting regeneration plans in full and to reiterate the strength of our partnership. I also managed to include a fascinating trip to Jarrow Hall where I met with Leigh Venus, the Bede Museum, including the church and ruins of the monastery where the great Benedictine monk Bede worked. The final visit of the day was to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, which I have always admired.

Hartwig Fischer inside and on top of the tower of Durham Cathedral
Inside and on top of the tower of Durham Cathedral.

Thursday heralded a trip to Durham Cathedral, where we were met by the Dean, Andrew Tremlett, and had a tour of Open Treasure, the newly designated exhibition spaces, charting the superbly intact medieval monastic buildings and the treasures relating to St Cuthbert. It was then a treat to head up all 325 steps of the newly restored cathedral tower before it was open to the public. Following this, we visited the Oriental Museum, which will be hosting a new Prints and Drawings touring exhibition early next year as part of our National Programmes. We ended the day with The Bowes Museum to see the beautiful Silver Swan automaton and a tour of their collections and have the chance to discuss future opportunities for partnership working with Peter Mothersill (Chair of the Board of Trustees) and Jane Whittaker (Head of Collections).

Interior of Durham Cathedral, looking past rows of pews towards the altar.
Durham Cathedral.

Early on Friday we met with Reyahn King, (Chief Executive of York Museums Trust) and Emma Hamlett (Head of Collections and Curatorial Services at York Castle Museum) in York to hear about the vital role they are playing in the city’s cultural and urban development project, The Castle Gateway Masterplan. The project team are working closely with local citizens to deliver the best solution for the city, its residents and visitors. The aim is to increase the understanding of the castle site’s history, archaeology and its contribution to prison history in the national story through high quality design. To get to this stage, it is incredibly important for every cultural project to build relationships and trust with communities, local businesses and other stakeholders. It was great to pop into our Partnership Gallery at Yorkshire Museum Roman York: Meet the People of the Roman Empire, and to hear about the impact of our recent partnership exhibition Viking: Rediscover the legend which began its touring journey in York.

Hartwig Fischer, Reyahn King and Emma Hamlett outside York Art Gallery
Hartwig Fischer, Reyahn King and Emma Hamlett outside York Art Gallery, York Museums Trust.

My final visit on Friday afternoon was to the University of Nottingham Museum and Nottingham Lakeside Arts, a truly inspirational museum and arts centre which offers a mix of art, design, music, literature and theatre. During the afternoon, we had a tour of the archaeology collections with Dr Clare Pickersgill (Keeper of the University of Nottingham Museum). Our tour continued with a visit to their current exhibitions Homage to the Bauhaus with Neil Walker (Head of Visual Arts), a stunning exhibition drawn from the remarkable collection of Jack Kirkland, and Romantic Facts and Fantasies led by Mark Dorrington (Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections) and Shona Powell (Director of Lakeside Arts). We ended the afternoon with the Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor Jeremy Gregory, and colleagues to continue our discussions about the future of museums and partnership working.

Neil Walker shows Hartwig Fischer an artwork mounted on a wall at Nottingham Lakeside Arts
Hartwig Fischer and Neil Walker at Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

I was struck by the depth of collaboration and friendship with all of the partners we met with and the important role our partnership can play in their development plans. Next year one of our National Programmes touring exhibitions focusing on objects from ancient Iraq will visit both The Great North Museum and Lakeside Arts, with more detail to be announced in due course. We are very much looking forward to working with those institutions and the other partners on the exhibition. In continuing to build relationships with museums throughout the country, large and small, we also look forward to learning from each other and helping to secure the future of the UK’s heritage and cultural sector.

At a time when cultural services across the country are facing more and more challenges, it is vital that we work with our partners and their stakeholders, to enable our partnerships to have real meaning, reach and impact for both visitors and communities.

Find out more about the Museum's National Partnerships, touring exhibitions and Partnership Galleries.