The British Museum is set to loan out valuable treasures, including a Roman bronze of Herakles, to sites around the country as part of what it has dubbed the “Spotlight Tours” to bring them to as many people as possible. This is expected to pave the way to more local partnerships with major galleries and museums.
The statue of Herakles, which has only been loaned outside of the United Kingdom since its acquisition in 1805, will be sent to the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill, East Sussex this summer for a series of exhibitions about the Olympics.
The initiative is backed by the £100,000 Art Fund prize that the British Museum received as 2011’s museum of the year. The tours will see single objects loaned out for exhibitions in local venues across the UK and organizers hope that the scheme will continue for up to four years.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “The British Museum is committed to sharing its collection as widely as possible and we are delighted to be able to use the Art Fund Prize funding to collaborate with local partners on this series of tours”.
Local museum heads said they were equally delighted with this initiative. Jayne Austin, Development Manager for the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Services said the tours have encouraged other institutions to undertake similar schemes.
“This programme has opened up loads of opportunities,” she said, adding the British Museum was leading the way for other collaborations with national institutions. Other galleries already have strong ties with local venues, which includes lending art and artifacts.
The Mildenhall Great Dish, a silver Roman dish dominated by the face of the god Neptune, is set to be loaned to Christchurch Mansion, part of the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Services. Austin noted that the dish, part of the Mildenhall Treasure hoard, is especially significant because it is “so important in the history of Suffolk”.
“I have no doubt that it will draw a lot of attention from around the county,” she said. Austin added the two museums would “absolutely” continue their close collaboration in the future.
But not all the objects loaned out have a specific local significance; the Gayer Anderson Cat, an Ancient Egyptian sacred representation of the goddess Bastet, will be displayed in the Shetland Museum and Archives in September 2012.
The Roman bronze will also contrast with its surroundings. The De La Warr Pavillion has a more contemporary focus but the curator, David Rhodes, said the museum wanted to make a “spectacular statement” with this “surprising juxtaposition”. He also lauded the British Museum and the tours for helping local museums. “It’s a real example of cultural democracy,” he said.
John Orna-Ornstein, the Head of London and National Programmes at the British Museum said that the emphasis on loaning single objects had really been sparked by the History of the World in 100 Objects project in 2010. “It really changed the thinking of our partners,” he said. “Every object has a story to tell.”