How museums and galleries manage their art exhibitions efficiently

There are around 55,000 museums worldwide and countless other galleries, exhibitions, theatres and art stages. Everyone will agree that art in its various forms plays an important role in our lives. In times of Corona - but even before - managing and running such an art institution is incredibly difficult. Dependent on public funds, in constant justification mode, and now hit by Corona-related closures, there are certainly easier tasks than those of a museum director.

This article describes both the challenges of art management, addresses the differences in managing a public art institution as opposed to a business, outlines the problems of inflexible industry solutions to art management, and identifies efficient ways to address these challenges.

What is art management or the task of a museum anyway?

In order to be able to describe art management, one must first understand the task of a museum and its art. But as simple as this task may seem at first glance, even the international council of museums has struggled for decades to find a suitable and comprehensive definition. The impact of art on our society is too complex. Thus, in 2019 in Kyoto, the following description was agreed upon:

Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.

It is thus the task of public museums, exhibitions and galleries to be a haven of history. They should preserve art objects and preserve them for present and future generations. The core tasks thus include "collecting, researching, preserving, exhibiting and mediating".

Art Management is therefore about taking on precisely this difficult challenge and finding ways and means of fulfilling the aforementioned core tasks in the public sphere.

The management of art exhibitions, museums and exhibitions requires flexibility of people and software.

The differences between art management and the management of a company

At first glance, the management of a company and an art institution appear to be similar. The big difference, however, is that art exhibitions and museums are public and in most cases less able to act independently. While companies are profit-oriented and can decide for themselves what strategy they want to pursue, art institutions are largely financed by the state, can only generate a small part of their costs themselves through your visitors and are usually prohibited from trading your art. This means that you are deprived of a potentially important source of income and make you dependent on your financial backer - the state.

In addition, museums, galleries and exhibitions not only have to do a consistently good job in terms of content and organization, but they also have to permanently justify their own existence and further development. Museum directors live in a constant balancing act. They are expected to serve the high demands of art for the general public, while at the same time they are subject to constant public criticism and are often restricted in their activities by decisions of the public authorities and sponsors.

A small insight into the problem was given by the resignation of Udo Kittelmann in 2019. Kittelmann renounced the head post of the German National Gallery, probably the most important and renowned exhibition in Germany. Too little budget and too little freedom in combination with the permanent need for representation by politics had made him throw in the towel.

Art management differs from the management of a company

Few museums have an appeal like the Louvre in Paris. The picture shows visitors at the painting of the Mona Lisa.

Even before Corona, artists, museums, galleries and exhibitions had a hard time. But with the pandemic, the problems have intensified. The forced closures have eliminated an important source of income without reducing costs to the same extent. Even if galleries and museums are state-funded, the pressure to justify each of these institutions is increasing. World-famous museums like the Louvre have no difficulty surviving these times because of their appeal. But where are small exhibitions or artists' projects supposed to develop this radiance from?

That's why it's time to think about efficient art and exhibition management, especially when revenues are falling away. Money that is not spent on the expenditure side does not have to be collected or financed on the revenue side. This reduces the pressure to justify and facilitates the continued existence of such public institutions.

The challenges of art management

In addition to the difficult framework conditions of art management, however, there are also challenges in terms of content in exhibition management. The most difficult challenge is certainly that art exists in many different forms and each has different requirements. Works of art cause high and mostly permanent follow-up costs through professional storage and restoration.

Art objects often do not belong to museums but are lent out for a certain period of time in the form of a loan. Due to the usually high value, corresponding insurances must be concluded and monitored. Often the building in which a museum is located is already an art historical asset and must be maintained itself. Depending on the type of exhibition, the necessary information that has to be collected is manifold and can even change fundamentally from exhibition to exhibition.

It is the task of people to cope with this complexity and it is the task of museum management software to deal with this complexity. These solutions must be able to cope with each of these challenges and not cost too much.

SeaTable as flexible museum software

Museum management software must be flexible and simple at the same time. An unsolvable challenge for usual industry solutions

Why industry solutions are often not suitable

As an industry outsider, you may be surprised at how many such industry solutions there are in the area of exhibition management. Even just a quick search will yield a multitude of possible solutions. Among the best known are: MuseumPlus, Axiell Collections Management, Artwork Archive, CatalogIt, PastPerfect, Argos Art Management, Versai Museum Management Software, Veevart and many more. Each of these solutions has its own unique focus, often falling into two categories: one category focuses on the creation and delivery of catalogues, visual elements and exhibition information, while the other category takes care of the administrative work in the background.

The problem with all these special solutions is their fixed structure, which almost every software solution comes with. It forces your users into a process and a way of working that the software finds useful. At the same time, the only way to deal with the many challenges in the arts environment is flexibility. Only if the management software can adapt to the requirements and the reality, it will really facilitate the work of the users.

For this reason, you should take a look at Seatable. Because SeaTable offers you exactly this flexibility you need to develop your own processes and workflows. In SeaTable you can bring all your information, no matter what kind, together in your very own personal database, put it in connection and thus organize your daily work more efficiently. SeaTable is as easy and intuitive to use as an Excel spreadsheet.

Manage and organize exhibitions, collections, contracts, loans, restoration tasks, customer bases and information of any kind in a single intuitive platform. Design your custom applications based on your information. Powerful filters, sorting and grouping give you the freedom to design your work exactly the way you need it. Link SeaTable with your other business applications and automate your workflows.

SeaTable is not rigid, but adapts flexibly to the needs and requirements of managing art and objects. The following sections describe typical art management tasks and how you can solve them with SeaTable. They are intended to give you a sense of the flexibility that SeaTable can provide.

1. collection management

Collection management ensures the reliable recording, cataloguing, indexing and management of all objects including all relevant information. Depending on the object, a different type of information capture may be relevant, but with SeaTable you can respond flexibly. For a painting, in addition to the core data such as title, artist, dating and dimensions, the material and origin could also be relevant. At the same time, information about planned restorations or loans must also be recorded.

The strength of SeaTable lies in the fact that you determine yourself which information you want to record and can expand it as desired. At the same time, any links can be created between the different information and, with the help of rollup columns, information can also be transferred from one table to another.

Our template Art Gallery Management has some sample entries to show you the possibilities. The individual art objects are at the centre of the collection management and are linked to the artists. At the same time, it is recorded where the artwork is currently located and there is a link to the planned restorations. An extension with public references, creative periods or art categories can be added at any time.

Object overview of the Art Gallery Template

Object overview of the Art Gallery Template

Visual representation of the objects with the gallery plugin

The table view of SeaTable can be flexibly adapted to the needs of individual employees with individual views. In addition, SeaTable has other display options besides the tabular display. For entries with pictures, for example, it makes sense to use the gallery plugin to quickly find the desired entry. A click on the entry is sufficient to switch to the detailed view and make adjustments to the data.

The artists presented as a gallery

The artists presented as a gallery

2. exhibition management

The organization of an exhibition is complex and requires careful planning, management and control of multiple activities. SeaTable supports you with its flexible structure and allows you to coordinate the people and institutions involved, the venues and the donors. Manage loans or monitor transport to ensure complete traceability of all objects at all times. For example, every movement in and out of the museum grounds can be recorded and documented via a movement log. You keep control of whether an exhibit is currently in the exhibition, in the restoration workshop or in transit. Thanks to the powerful filters, groupings and sortings, you will not lose sight of any object.

Every museum has to manage a large number of contracts and agreements related to exhibitions, loans and objects. In SeaTable you can record any kind of information in a structured way and thus file a complete documentation. Receive automatic email reminders before a deadline expires or monitor monthly costs with the help of statistical evaluations. Manage your documents with contract-specific fields that you need.

Evaluation of monthly costs by expenditure category

Evaluation of monthly costs by expenditure category

3. customers and contractual partners

Customer and contract management involves the administration of all persons and companies with whom you are in contact. These can be employees, but also artists, restorers, patrons and sponsors, editors, press representatives, but also shipping companies and insurance companies. You determine which information you want to record and how you link this information to the exhibition.

Do you want to save the date of birth of your sponsors in addition to the address? With a few clicks you can expand your data entry by another date column and save this information as well. The possibilities are almost limitless and so you could, for example, in addition to the master data such as title, name, address, phone number and e-mail also maintain address groups and distribution lists and maintain a complete contact history.

Group and filter your contacts

Group and filter your contacts

4. restoration and maintenance

The care of historical works of art is a great challenge. In addition to the technical challenge, logging is a large part of the work. With SeaTable you can record both the incoming documentation and the condition logs before and after the restoration in pictures, videos and descriptions.

All measures can be called up for each object. This allows you to record data on storage, transport or the general condition directly at the object and always have it at hand.

5. loan management, transport and logistics

In an exhibition with objects on loan, the coordination of the persons and institutions involved is an important task. The
venues as well as lenders and the entry and exit protocols must be recorded. At any point in time, it must be possible to track each loaned exhibit. With SeaTable, you can overcome challenge with ease and can guarantee complete traceability of all objects, whether they are on loan or owned by the collection. You know at all times whether an exhibit is currently in the archive, in the restoration workshop, in the exhibition or in transit.

6. archive and literature

What would an art object be without the necessary background information. No matter what information you want to record in addition to the objects, with SeaTable you have the possibility to do so. You can enter bibliographic entries of any kind or create literature references to objects. Alternatively, you can of course link directories, books, catalogues, periodicals and articles to the respective objects and thus create the basis for an exhibition documentation.

7. internet presence

Every exhibition, gallery and collection needs a website to provide more information to art enthusiasts before and after their visit. Avoid duplicate maintenance of information and simply use the information stored in SeaTable to create an engaging website. Thanks to the well-documented REST api, you can use any programming language to retrieve the content from SeaTable and display it on a web page.

This allows you to display your exhibits on your website in your corporate design, creating a fitting online presence. Once set up, the website updates automatically when you customize your objects in SeaTable or add more objects.

The following code section is all you need to put your exhibits on a website. Just use the code snippet as a source of inspiration and experiment with it. You can find the full API documentation at https://api.seatable.io.

A platform for the individual workflows and processes of museums, galleries and exhibitions

The administration and management of museums, galleries and art exhibitions or any form of art management is certainly a great challenge. It requires intuition and that you constantly reinvent yourself. Use a software solution that can adapt to your specific needs and that is as flexible to new challenges as you are. Try SeaTable and you'll be amazed at how versatile and flexible you can use it to develop your very own processes and workflows.