The Art Gallery of NSW’s Collections SAMP

Executive Summary

The Art Gallery of NSW (the Art Gallery) is an internationally recognised art museum, responsible for the care and management of an immense portfolio of artworks and collections. In 2022, the Art Gallery with industry support from WSP, developed a Collections Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP), applying asset management principles to the gallery’s art collection. This involved extensive interactions and collaborations between the project team, the Art Gallery’s Collections Management divisions and other supporting business units, to plan the strategic approach to managing collections as assets, in alignment with Art Gallery’s organisational objectives and the Collections Management Framework.

Description of project or framework addressing the assessment criteria

The Art Gallery is legislated to facilitate meaningful encounters with art, through collecting, preserving, protecting, and displaying the immense Australian and international art collections. As defined in the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980 (the Act), the Art Gallery is to develop and maintain a collection of works of art, to increase knowledge and appreciation of art. We do this through planning and executing a wide range of exhibitions, programs and activities supported by a robust and well-established collections management framework.

Under the NSW Asset Management Policy (TPP19 – 07), all government agencies are required to submit their SAMP for annual attestations. The Art Gallery, as an art museum and cultural institution, recognises the unique asset portfolio, and made the decision to develop a ‘Collections’ specific SAMP to complement the Non-Collections SAMP.

Use of Best Practice Asset Management Principles

The collection is at the core of what the Art Gallery delivers, and making up $1.8 billion of our asset portfolio, is our most important asset. While the Art Gallery’s Collections Management Framework defines our overall approach to managing the collection, a Collections-specific SAMP enables us to apply asset management principles to managing the collection as an asset, and maximising value through its life cycle management.

The Art Gallery has developed an Asset Management Framework that outlines the differences between how Non-Collections assets and Collections assets are managed. For the Art Gallery, artworks are for the most part held into perpetuity as we have an obligation under the Act to continue preserving and growing our art collections. This unique life cycle, unlike traditional assets that commonly enter a disposal phase, needed to be considered alongside the long-term implications of an ever-growing collections asset portfolio.

The Collections SAMP intends to guide the strategic direction of managing our collection to remain relevant, resilient and financially sustainable as we continue to acquire significant artworks and grow the collection. It provides the opportunity for the Art Gallery to articulate the various interdependencies needed to support the collection, including non-collections assets (such as facilities, physical storage), digital preservation systems and collections management systems, and preservation, conservation, and registration processes. Importantly it provides the opportunity for the Art Gallery to clarify the ongoing maintenance and capital requirements for the short to medium term, to continue meeting world-class standards of care.

Degree of originality and ingenuity of solution

The Art Gallery’s innovative approach and application of a structured management system, in the form of a Collections SAMP, allows for the well-established principles of asset management to be applied to a non-traditional asset type. By recognising art collections as assets, the Art Gallery is able to adopt a new, but complementary, perspective to collections management. With the unique life cycle of collections, the Collections SAMP provided the Art Gallery with the opportunity to address the long-term implications of an ever-growing asset portfolio, and capture the necessary measures needed to ensure they continue to be conserved, preserved and protected. Importantly, it adopts the principles of balancing cost, risk and performance to collections as assets so that a suitable long-term strategy can be developed.

The journey of developing the Collections SAMP with industry support also enables the principles of asset management to the shared with broader business units of the Art Gallery, building awareness, support and engagement on how these principles can be applied to collections management.

Program and project management

The Collections SAMP was developed in partnership with industry support, bringing in the technical experience of industry professionals to collaborate with our experienced and knowledgeable art managers and collections specialists. Through regular workshops and fostering opportunities for discussions between the team, we were able to develop a SAMP that ties together all the moving parts of our business that supports our collection.

The program involved firstly having a clear understanding of the existing Collections Management Framework through reviewing and collating the various policies already developed by the Art Gallery that define their approach and processes to managing the collection. The program involved holding dedicated stakeholder workshops with the Art Gallery’s Conservation and Registration teams to better understand the intricacies of collections management and the various processes required to ensure the collection continues to deliver value to the community. This also provided the opportunity for the Art Gallery to identify key constraints and long-term strategies in ensuring the sustainable management of their growing collection portfolio. Following these activities, a SAMP was developed, catered to the needs and requirements of collections management while taking into consideration the unique asset life cycle of artworks, interdependencies with other supporting functions of the business supporting the collection, and intended outcomes of caring for, preserving and displaying the collection.

Benefit/ Value of the project or service to the community or organisation

The Collections SAMP supports the Art Gallery in highlighting the value our collections assets bring, to ensure their continued preservation, conservation and world-class management. The SAMP presents a structured approach to defining our collections management strategy and articulates the constraints and opportunities, roles and responsibilities and ongoing maintenance and capital requirements for collections management.

The Art Gallery strives to maintain our reputation as an internationally recognised art museum through proper care and management of our collection, so that we can continue fostering the communities’ appreciation for art. Developing the Collections SAMP supports us in this goal, acting as a medium to communicate our requirements to Government and key stakeholders in a clear and consistent format.

Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual/ team/ organisation

The Art Gallery approached the development of the Collections SAMP with dedication and recognition of the benefits it brings not only the Art Gallery itself, but also to the broader community through better collections management. We proactively sought to develop both a Non-Collections SAMP and Collections SAMP, as we understood the benefits of highlighting these two different asset types in their distinct, but complementary context.

The engagement and support from the staff to develop the Collections SAMP in 2022 showcased the commitment of the Art Gallery in establishing a fit-for-purpose and useful document that would support us in achieving our strategic objectives and as we continue to carry out our obligations under the Act. Our team, consisting of members from the Art Gallery’s Conservation, Registration, Facilities, and Finance divisions were extensively involved in and contributed significantly to stakeholder workshops, while continually demonstrating professionalism and willingness to share. By enabling this forum for the various business units to communicate and collaborate, openly discussing their roles and responsibilities to the art collection, it was possible to develop a Collections SAMP tailored to the needs of the Art Gallery and its collection.

General Comments

The Art Gallery’s Collections SAMP represents the growing relevance and applicability of asset management principles and practices to non-traditional asset types. The Collections SAMP provides a starting point as agencies continue to broaden their definition of what a value adding asset is, enabling businesses to realise the benefits from asset life cycle management and strategic planning. Through this exercise, the Art Gallery has defined the strategy to managing the art collection, to continue remaining sustainable and resilient as we endeavour to meet world-class standards of care. It provides the organisation with the opportunity to clarify both ongoing maintenance and capital requirements in the short to medium term, by demonstrating the value of the collection to the Art Gallery and to the state of NSW.

The Art Gallery’s innovative approach and application of a structured management system in the form of a Collections SAMP, is envisioned to encourage other government agencies and cultural institutions to apply asset management principles to a broader set of asset classes, supporting the realisation of value from their assets.

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