The Exhibitionists: A collaboration between BBC Cymru Wales and The National Museum in Cardiff
In a new four-part TV series of BBC Two Wales, members of the public gain access to the National Museum of Wales and set about curating their own art exhibition for the very first time.
In a special post for the About the BBC Blog, Commissioning Executive, BBC Wales, Phillip Moss throws light on how The Exhibitionists came about.
The National Museum in Cardiff's civic centre couldn't look much more like a museum if it tried. It's a solid, be-columned Portland stone structure that says everything about Cardiff's coal wealth at the beginning of the 20th century and the wish of the city fathers to have institutions and buildings to match anything you could find in other capitals around the world.
Although Cardiff itself would have to wait until 1955 to actually become a capital, the museum wasn't going to hang around and it's been home to world-class collections of natural history, geology and fine and applied art since 1927. 'Imposing' is a word I'd use to describe the building and it was the word firmly in my mind as I was guided round the base of the inevitable dome that looms high above the museum's entrance hall.
I was on my way to discuss The Exhibitionists, a tv series which we hoped would give us access to the museum's treasure trove of artworks and ceramics stored in its underground vaults. With me was independent producer Ffion Jon Williams, who a few weeks earlier had pitched us the idea of a series featuring members of the public competing for the chance to curate a real exhibition.
The exhibition would be open to the general public in the museum's new Gallery 24. As we circumnavigated our way to the meeting held in one of several rooms that radiate off the dome, we walked past forbiddingly closed oak doors with signs above them saying things like 'Assistant Director' and 'Head Curator'. There's very much a feel of the old Broadcasting House up here - a feeling only reinforced as you walk past a door marked 'Director General'.
And so we found ourselves in the wood-panelled Court Room, with an array of long-dead gentleman looking down on us disapprovingly from paintings around the walls, face to face with the museum's current Director General, the charismatic David Anderson. The meeting started off a little tentatively, and by ten minutes in we were not making much headway.
We wanted to bring a reality format to a programme about art, with our 'Exhibitionists' being whittled down each week in a way that would be very familiar to viewers of Masterchef or The Apprentice. The trouble was, David was not at all keen on playing Lord Sugar.
Up until the meeting, the museum had been making all the right noises, but David would ultimately decide and at this point I wouldn't have bet one of the museum's Monets on the deal going through at all. After Ffion had explained about how the programme might work - including the museum opening up their entire collection to our five members of the public - things were looking cautiously positive, but no more.
Then it was my turn. Despite the rather intimidating circumstances, I found it a surprisingly easy little speech to make. I said how important we think it is for the BBC to be partnering with other public institutions, and how this programme was a perfect fit for both organisations.
After all what could be more public service than allowing the public to find out more about the art which we all own, and bringing the fabulous art in the national collection to a new audience?
Luckily David Anderson is not stiff like the oak panelling, nor crusty like the old gentlemen looking down on us, and I think I must have said the right thing as he then enthusiastically launched into his own speech about how this was entirely what he wanted to do - open up the museum, make it less intimidating and get new people though its doors.And so the doors were opened to us too. Pretty much everything we asked for he gave, and the museum and its staff couldn't have embraced this idea more fully.
We think this might be the first time that a UK museum has allowed members of the public to put on their own exhibition, and in keeping with David's inclusive, non-Lord Sugar style, it's visitors to the museum who will decide who is the eventual winner.
So, after 14 years in the BBC, a Director-General finally said yes to me.
Phillip Moss is a Commissioning Executive at BBC Cymru Wales
The Exhibitionists, produced by Cwmni Da for BBC Cymru Wales, starts on Wednesday June 27 at 10pm on BBC Two Wales.
See the paintings chosen for the first episode of The Exhibitionists.Your Paintings is a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation (a registered charity) and participating collections and museums from across the UK.
Watch an exclusive clip from The Exhibitionists below.