Neil Lebeter and Umulkhayr Mohamed
12 February 2023

Hands on Heritage: Demystifying Acquisitions

Neil Lebeter and Umulkhayr Mohamed

12 February 2023 | Minute read

Since May 2021, the Demystifying Acquisitions group has met monthly as part of a co-curated project looking at art acquisitions at Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales and critiquing the history, processes and policies that have shaped the century-long endeavour of collections development at the Museum. As a major outcome of this project, the group were engaged in a live acquisition, Chris Ofili’s North Wales series of prints. They were involved at every stage of this process, from decision making and fundraising to eventual display. Funded by The National Heritage Lottery Fund through the Hands on Heritage project, participants are paid for their time working with Amgueddfa Cymru.

Acquisitions: How do they work?

The group has been involved in a mixture of formal and informal learning, meeting both in person and online to discuss the development of collections and acquisitions; looking at history, collections policy, fundraising, budgets, conservation, display and ethics. Debate and critique of these processes and our work as an organisation is a key factor, with the group both learning about and questioning the current status quo. 

A significant moment occurred when the group met in June 2021. Following a debate around its suitability and relevance to our existing collection, members unanimously agreed to pursue Ofili’s North Wales series for acquisition. This was the first time in Amgueddfa Cymru’s history that a decision on an art acquisition had been taken outside of the curatorial department and marked a key moment in our efforts to democratise our work and platform external voices. After a successful round of fundraising, the prints are now part of the collection thanks to the generous support of the Ampersand Foundation and the Derek Williams Trust.

We have also had the opportunity to share outcomes with the wider museum and galleries sector and the public as the project has progressed. For example, two of the group members gave a presentation as part of the symposium: Dynamic Collections and Kick the Dust - Young people shaping collections & organisational change, hosted by the British Museum in March 2022. Moreover, the group also participated in a recent episode of Inside Art on Sky Arts which was part of a wider episode on The Rules of Art? exhibition. This featured an in-person group meeting, along with an interview with participants. 

What next for the group?

The next phase of the project, which we have been working on with the group throughout 2022, is a co-curated redisplay of Gallery 24 as part of a rehang of The Rules of Art? exhibition at National Museum Cardiff. The group have agreed on a theme for this display based around Ofili’s North Wales prints. This is a very exciting time in the project, moving the work of the group from behind-the-scenes processes around acquisitions to a public-facing, co-curated exhibition. 

As so much of the project is about the voices of the group itself, it’s only right we give them the last word…

“The project is unique in the sense that it teaches young people about acquisitions, a process that is rarely discussed, and allows us to participate in every stage of that process. I was surprised at the hurdles curators must overcome to acquire an object, making it a lengthy process: meeting the requirements of the Collection Development Policy, obtaining approval from various internal and external stakeholders, applying for and justifying funding and most notably, working with an insufficient budget to purchase artworks that a National Museum deserves and requires. I think that, by enabling this group of non- museum employees to make decisions around an artwork, this project very importantly pioneers another way of increasing representation and public involvement in its collections.”

Chloe Jones


“Demystifying Acquisitions with National Museum Cardiff is proving to be a valuable project for young people entering the world of arts institutions, giving a deeply informative insight into behind-the-scenes knowledge and processes. Applied to the acquisition of Ofili’s North Wales series, the opportunity is made all the more advantageous as the live project can meaningfully add to the museum's art collection; with a representation of Wales as an inspiration for contemporary artists, much as it played that role for the likes of Turner and Lowry.”

Rhyann Arthur


“As a group we have discussed the pros and cons of acquiring Chris Ofili's North Wales series. We all feel strongly that his work is a vital and significant contribution to representing the people and culture of contemporary Wales. The series will both complement and contest other Welsh landscapes in Museum Wales’ collection, presenting a unique opportunity for fresh interpretations of Wales and what constitutes "Welsh" art.”

Millie Bethel


Neil Lebeter was Senior Curator: Modern and Contemporary Art at Amgueddfa Cymru from 2018 to 2022. Neil is interested in the social and cultural building blocks that influence museums and visual culture more widely, and how contemporary art can critique those structures. He curated The Rules of Art? exhibition at National Museum Cardiff and set up the Demystifying Acquisitions group with the Amgueddfa Cymru Producers.

Umulkhayr is a Welsh Somali artist, writer, curator, and consultant. Her artistic practice involves creating primarily artist moving image and performance work that explores the tension present between enjoying the act of wandering between emancipatory temporalities and a functional need to position oneself in the now.

Umulkhayr sees her curatorial and editorial practice as being guided by and understanding what we do and do not include in art exhibitions and publications that profess to speak about identity in any way, as many exhibitions and publications do, is a deeply political endeavour, with lasting effects on whole communities’ lived experience, that needs to be treated as such with great care and consideration.


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