A printed copy of the new issue of Midlands Art Papers outside the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Flora Kaye.

Co-production is a fundamental element of gallery practice across the UK, and stands as an umbrella term for the different ways in which curation, collections research, interpretation and engagement can be developed through dialogue and collaboration between museums and their many publics.

Through our Midlands Art Papers project, and in partnership with public museums and galleries across the Midlands, we have co-authored a new publication: Co-production in regional art galleries. Through a series of case studies and top-tips, we explore the ways in which galleries today are using co-production methods to transform curation, interpretation and community engagement. A symposium, co-hosted with Derby Museums in May 2024, further explored this, with attendees from museums across the UK.

From our publication and our symposium, we have found that co-production has the potential to destabilise the traditional hierarchies inherent to museums and art galleries. Through co-production, knowledge is not simply transmitted to audiences by the institution, but mutually created. At the same time, pre-existing power dynamics and structural issues around access pose challenges for open dialogue and collaboration.

Co-production, at its best, folds museums and their publics into relationships of dialogue, exchange, and care. At the same time, as our contributors show, the success of all of this is very much dependent on establishing ongoing, trusting relationships with community co-producers, and on further improving access to collections and their histories.

We advocate for the importance of establishing long-term and sustainable relationships with collaborators when embarking on co-production, and we urge sector funders to dedicate resource for this. The ultimate aim is to reaffirm the status of our public museums and galleries as key cultural assets held for and with their communities. We encourage all involved in this dynamic to explore: what can the museum and community achieve together?

Read a digital copy of the latest issue of Midlands Art Papers, or request a free print version here.