• Connecting collections and places across a rural area image 1

    'Egg Paintings' (2015) Uta Kögelsberger. Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Commissioned by Cumbria Museum Consortium as part of New Expressions 3. Photo: (c) Jane Hobson

  • Connecting collections and places across a rural area image 2

    'South by South West' (2015) (Still from moving image work) Uta Kögelsberger. Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Commissioned by Cumbria Museum Consortium as part of New Expressions 3

Connecting collections and places across a rural area

New work by Uta Kögelsberger - Cumbria Museum Consortium and Uta Kögelsberger, artist

Cumbria Museum Consortium's collaboration with artist Uta Kögelsberger linked three diverse sites in rural Cumbria. A staged selection process ensured that shortlisted artists understood the complexity of the commission. Even so, the scale and ambition of the project presented challenges for both museum partners and artist as they realised the high quality artworks.

Top: Project lead Helen Watson discussing the commission (New Expressions film)

Budget: £16,000

Tullie House Museum Trust in Carlisle, Lakeland Arts in Kendal and The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere have been working in partnership as Cumbria Museum Consortium since 2012.

The partners wanted to take a fresh look at Cumbria, its museum sites and collections, increasing the quality of visitor experience by tying together the three different museum sites.

Selecting an artist

The consortium worked with an experienced New Expressions mentor to develop a brief for an artist and advertise the opportunity in an ‘open call’. Working together as a group, the consortium members shortlisted a number of artists from the responses to the open call.

The museum partners invited the shortlisted artists to join them on a coach day trip to all three of the consortium venues in Carlisle, Kendal and Grasmere.

Following the coach trip, the shortlisted artists submitted an outline proposal for a collaboration. Cumbria Museum Consortium selected five of these artists and paid them to work up a more in-depth proposal and attend an interview with the consortium members and their New Expressions mentor.

Helen Watson, project lead at the consortium explains: “I don’t think it would have occurred to any of us to invest in an artist to draft a proposal for us. But our mentor presented the idea that it would be worth the artist investing, and that to be fair we should pay the artist, because we were asking them to invest time in us”.

Helen continues: “After the interviews, we decided to offer the commission to Uta Kögelsberger. We felt her work was really good quality and we were excited to work with her”.

Project management responsibilities

Developing a commission across three different sites – and three separate institutions – presented challenges for both artist and consortium in ensuring that the project ran smoothly.

Helen Watson comments: “It’s a very ambitious project … because of the geographical spread, because of the diversity of the collections and because, instead of having to deal with just one person, Uta has had to deal with three different lots of people. I think it has been very time-consuming and I don’t think that the time-consuming nature of the project was as high up on the priorities as it should have been”.

For the artist, Uta Kögelsberger, it was important to have as much clarity as possible about how the project was being organized across the different sites: “There’s a juggling between the logistics of a project like this where you’re working between three museums that haven’t worked together on commissioning an artist before. For instance, I was a bit unclear which spaces my work would be shown in and when – it kept shifting…It could also be tricky to organize times to visit the venues that worked for all of us. I would expect that structure to come from the venue rather than the artist”.

The commissioner offers a different perspective: “I think we were under the impression that it would be a bit more of the artist's initiative in terms of contacting the other consortium partners and seeking times to visit and research the collections. It felt that that was with the artist, to organize and establish this, instead of us being the middle party”.

Managing expectations

Such a complex project also presented budgetary challenges. In the event, the artist developed three separate exhibitions for three different sites, which tested the limits of the budget of £16,000.

High quality work

Both Cumbria Museum Consortium and the artist were delighted with the artwork created during the project.

Helen says: “We’ve always had confidence in the quality of Uta’s work. All three consortium members have felt excited and confident about it. And all of the work she’s produced with us to date, we are delighted with. It’s very high quality, very well produced, very well executed and there is a narrative to it that relates back to the collections”.

Uta is also very pleased: “I’m very happy with the egg photographs. I think they’re really strong work. And I think the cave piece (‘Playing the Cave’) is going to be really strong work as well. The cave piece in particular is a new way for me of thinking about video. So I think that’s really great, because I’ve had to push the boat out in terms of working outside and the context I’m used to working in. So I’m very excited about these two pieces of work”.

Audience response

Audience response varied, with a majority responding positively to the work. 72% of audience survey respondents agreed that Kögelsberger’s work dealt with something unusual and unexplored, and 65% said that it stretched their mind beyond day-to-day thoughts. Audience comments included:

‘It’s inspirational’

‘It’s wonderful – inspires awe regarding creation and loss’

‘The work revived the space and prompted us to look more closely’

‘Uplifting and intensely reflective’

‘Different and unusual’.