Annual report and business plan

The Museums Association's finances and activities
As I write this introduction to the Museums Association (MA) 2016-17 Annual Report, I have been President of the MA (for the second time) for over two years.

Actually, quite a lot of my time in my 36-year museum career has been spent trying to help the MA be as effective as possible: I was, in the 1980s, the MA’s elected student representative, and then became a member of the MA’s council from 1990-93. At that time a couple of Yorkshire colleagues and I stood for election because we perceived that the MA was in financial difficulties, and that it needed a good dose of fiduciary pragmatism from its Yorkshire membership!

Subsequently, I rejoined the MA board and became president for the first time in 2000. In those days the MA had plenty of allies in our quest to represent the best interests of the UK museum profession - it had the Museums and Galleries Commission (later to be morphed into the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) and the Area Museum Councils. Scroll forwards a few years and we now have a very different museum landscape.

Most of those bodies don’t exist anymore and the UK is not the political unit it once was. Funding cuts have impacted on many museums and culture is now firmly a devolved responsibility.

What that means for the MA is that its role in championing museums across the UK, across all disciplines and museum types, is more important than ever.

It is good to be able to report that the MA is now in rude financial health; it is more active than ever; it is respected worldwide for its ethical and activist stances; it is widely networked; and its membership stands at an all-time high level.

The extreme right is on the march all over the world, promoting racism, xenophobia and intolerance of difference. This context is a particular challenge for museums that have traditionally played a progressive role in society, promoting understanding and tolerance.

Increasingly museums are looking for new and innovative ways to connect to audiences, challenge established thinking and foster discussion and debate. The MA needs to be responsive to this new context, and I am very pleased that it has led the sector with its flagship campaign, Museums Change Lives, and there is now much more evidence that many museums are delivering positive change working with their communities.

For a number of years the MA has led the call for strategic approaches to museum development in our nations, and this pressure on politicians needs to be maintained if we are to live in a world where museums are not to become easy victims of changing political whims.

Over the coming years I hope the MA can work with sector representatives to identify radical new approaches to collections, continue to promote the work that museums are doing with their communities and support everyone who works in and with museums to develop their careers in order to deliver the best possible service to the public.

David Fleming
President, Museums Association

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