At the sharp end

Rosie Crook, 23.06.2015
The annual museum development conference
Times are tough for museums at the moment and the Museum Development Network is at the sharp end.

The National Museum Development Network Conference on 17 June at Bristol’s ss Great Britain showcased our different resilience programmes, linked us at senior level into a huge range of national organisations, and helped museum development officers identify the skills we can share with each other.

Pretty much every museum development region has a resilience programme – and they are as diverse as the regions they represent.

The south-west of England gave a partnership of six museums access to Arts Council England’s (ACE) Strategic Fund to develop robust economic development plans.

Each partner museum got an audit and specialist plans on retailing, training and marketing.

In the north-west, five museums worked with a consultant to identify their most important strategic issues – different in every case – and to come up with bespoke solutions to move these on.

Some of the museums, although they found the initial diagnosis difficult to hear, have secured further support from Museum Development North West to implement these reports and have travelled huge distances in their thinking and the how they operate.

The south-east (Hampshire and Solent) has found a new way of partnering with universities to support museums with legal issues.

Law students volunteered with museums, looking initially at orphaned collections and then in a Thriving Museum Boards programme. Museums got legal support and the students got a much-broadened CV.

The message is to seek university partners beyond history and archaeology departments – law, marketing and business studies are keen to engage.

Museums involved in the Survive and Thrive programme in London went thorough a process of self-assessment, involving workshops, peer review and museum development support. This led to an improvement plan with associated funding.

In the East Midlands, the Business Development Programme has helped 32 museums in the past three years, with small grants for a huge range of business activities in retailing and fundraising.

Whatever the process, it’s clear that museums need to be convinced about signing up for change. There was a spirited debate about how museum development can best make this happen – help the museum assess itself, produce recognisable solutions and give support to deliver them.

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, kicked off the panel presentations by reminding us of the importance of Museums Change Lives and its vision for the impact of museums on people – something we see daily.

The National Museum Directors’ Council highlighted its resources for lobbying MPs and the Association for Cultural Enterprises discussed retailing. There was also information about the Working Internationally Regional Project; the Heritage Lottery Fund, which wants feedback about strategic funding; the Touring Exhibitions Group; and the Collections Trust and its work on Accreditation training.

It was great to have senior arts council input from John Orna-Ornstein, Isabel Churcher and Sam Rowlands.

To top off an inspiring day, ACE announced an extra £1.2m one-off capital fund in 2015-16 to support museums in meeting the conditions of the Government Indemnity Scheme, which helps museums, galleries, archives and libraries to borrow objects.

I’d like to thank the Association of Independent Museums and ACE for their support and funding and to my museum development colleagues for organising and contributing to the conference.

Rosie Crook is a Museum Development Officer (North) at Museum Development North West