ICOM’s Working Internationally Conference 2015

An early train and hot coffee began an insightful and enjoyable day at the International Council of Museums (ICOM) ‘Working Internationally’ Conference 2015 last week.

ICOM is a global network of committees representing over 20,000 museums in 117 countries around the world. It aims to promote information sharing, dialogue and the conservation of world heritage through partnerships.

For more information about you can visit their main site here: http://icom.museum


The conference saw professionals from across the sector discuss the benefits and challenges of international projects – from attracting visitors to managing risk and developing new connections.

This year is the first time the conference has been held outside of London – with the beautiful and culturally rich city of York, and the York Museums Trust, as host.

York is a city whose history spans over a thousand years, from the Romans to the Vikings, from the Normans to King Henry VII. As Kersten England, Chief Executive of York City Council, attested, the history of York is the history of the world.

York has a total of seven million visitors per year, with a large number of those going to the many museums and galleries on offer.

The morning had Kersten and representatives from Manchester Museum and People’s History Museum discuss the challenges and rewards of attracting more international visitors.

Key areas of advice included: the importance of market research, learning your audience, connecting your local story to global narratives, focusing on shared interests and offering a mixture of comfort and difference.

Manchester Museum focused on attracting foreign, especially Russian audiences, through pre-established, international partnerships and their Siberia exhibition At The Edge Of The World, which offered a diversity of material and links to home in a new context.

Tips for creating successful partnerships were given from speakers throughout the day, with the British Council India, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the V&A all highlighting the dangers of making assumptions, and presuming things will be done “your way”. This was particularly important when it came to risk: to objects, people and reputations.

Key to this invaluable advice was a central theme of respect, generosity and intercultural understanding.

If any of you are thinking of doing an international partnership remember – they are not just for big institutions! Bolton Library and Museum Service, a local council museum, showed that collaborating globally is within reach for even the smallest museums, or those with limited funds – as long as you play to your strengths, and have a clear vision.

Tobias Lumb at ICOM

Tobias Lumb at ICOM “Working Internationally”

A talk by Tobias Lumb, head of Public Programmes at York Railway Museum, gave an excellent breakdown of managing resources, and the financial costs and potential rewards of putting on a major event – in this case, the 75th anniversary of the locomotive “Mallard”.

All in all the day’s conference was a positive exchange of ideas and best practice, nurturing an atmosphere of international cooperation and goodwill.

As a wonderful example of ICOM’s dedication to informating sharing, all the papers delivered at the conference are available online!! Visit http://uk.icom.museum/working-internationally/annual-conferences/annual-conference-2015/ to see and download the papers and agenda of this year’s conference.

If you would like to know anything more, or have any questions for us or the speakers, please leave a comment below or send us an email at itp@britishmuseum.org