Borrowing beauty

Haslemere Educational Museum recently hosted a British Museum Spotlight Loan for their touring exhibition Troy: beauty and heroism.

The Spotlight Loan featured an Etruscan funerary urn, dating from around 125BC–100BC and a 2,500-year-old black-figure Athenian amphora, as well as Cassandra a drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and an etching by Pietro Testa, entitled The Birth and Infancy of Achilles.

The museum team originally successfully applied for the loan in 2019, one of only three UK venues selected through a competitive application process. However Covid meant the exhibition was twice delayed to 2022.

“We’ve never done a partnership with a national like that before, so it was a very interesting learning process for us” explains Curator Julia Tanner.  But that learning process was fully supported.

“A group from the British Museum are assigned and support you through the process, which is helpful because we inevitably had a lot of questions; we’d never done that level of loan before.”

As well as the work that went into the application itself, the loan required some modifications to the proposed display area, and additional public programming related to the themes of the exhibition.

“It’s quite demanding and takes effort, time, and commitment from the staff, especially the curatorial staff. We had to have quite a lot of work done to the gallery space where the exhibition is being held.

However, once we were successful and we were aware that we were going to have to upgrade, the BM advised we could apply for a grant from the British Museum Trust. Now our whole gallery space is even more secure and that will serve the museum for many years to come’.

We tied (the exhibition’s) theme into our regular programming and did some extra public engagement, for example, a Girl Guiding badge related to the exhibition which the BM have never had before. And we’ve had some special talks, including by our Patron and eminent sculptor Phillip Jackson CVO DL, around the themes of the exhibition.”

Julia highlights that as well as the additional profile the exhibition provided, the prestigious nature of the partnership was a real boost to stakeholders.

“We are getting people visiting us who’ve not been in before, people asking specifically to see Troy, it’s certainly given us a puff locally and our volunteers, trustees and regular visitors are very excited about it.”

So what would Julia’s key piece of advice be for AIM members thinking of a similar loan?

“Make sure you have the capacity and are prepared for the workloads, do a lot of planning beforehand, and make sure you capitalize on the opportunity with programming and marketing. Three months goes quickly so you really want to make the most of it.

We’ve learned a lot. It’s been positive all around. We are a small independent museum, so if we can do it, you can do it!”

Pictured left, A 2,500-year-old black-figure Athenian amphora, part of the Spotlight Loan; Right, Mary Beard visits Haslemere.