John Orna-Ornstein

Head of London and national programmes, British Museum;
MA Board member
Which impacts do you think it’ll be most important for your museum (or museums in general) to develop over the next five years?

Thinking about national museums and in particular about the BM, we’re going to need to continue to develop a flexible, responsive, reflective national role.

This means constantly redefining the role of a national museum, in response to sector changes, in collaboration with a variety of partners. From my perspective, important issues for the British Museum are going to be:

• The relationship between its local and national role - being a local centre for wellbeing at the same time as being a catalyst (and sometimes a leader) for national initiatives.

• A clearer role in connecting UK regional museums to international issues and partners.

• A focus on the individual - working out what responding to the individual means for a national/international organisation.

How might your museum (or museums in general) need to change to achieve those impacts?

We're going to need to listen more, be more aware, and look outside the sector more than we've done in the past.

We're going to need to invest more energy in researching public impact alongside our collections research.

And we're going to need to invest significantly more resource in digital - interaction with the real object will be more important than ever, but only digital will allow us to meet the potential of the collection and its relationship to global audiences.

How else could your museum (or museums in general) be different in ten years’ time? And in what ways might they stay the same?

In some of the above ways, I think.

A holistic approach to public impact, with collections at its core. Museums realising their unique potential to connect people from local to global – a deeper understanding of the contemporary relevance of our collections. But this will be a step-by-step change - we're already getting there.

Would you like to make any other comments about the future of museums?

The future's bright, the future's museums. I'm optimistic - not because of the security of being a national museum but because of the resilience and fantastic work of the museums I see on a weekly basis.

I was in Market Harborough last week. There I saw a museum service facing 40% funding cuts over three years.

But I also saw a museum with strong collections that told great local, national and international stories (from the Liberty Bodice to Iron Age/Roman hoards), with imaginative, creative staff, and delivering strong programmes to a variety of audiences ranging from retirees to adults living with dementia.

As I’ve said before, I think the language and approach of the sector is significantly different now compared to 10 years ago, and it will be different again in 10 years time.

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