On the road

Sharon Blog, 02.12.2014
There's no better time to share best practice
Over the past few weeks I have travelled throughout the UK speaking to Museums Association (MA) members and people who work in the sector at a variety of meetings and events. I've been to all four nations and have heard the views of a wide variety of people connected to museums.

And I've also done a lot of listening; as the new director of the MA I want to hear your views and opinions and make sure that the MA responds to your concerns.

As the autumn statement looms and budgets are being set by local authorities, funding is one thing that is occupying many people's minds.

The MA's annual cuts survey showed that many museums have had reductions in funding over the past year and face more of the same next year. The bodies that deal with museums at a strategic level, including government agencies and departments, also face reduced budgets across the UK.

The economic situation is affecting different museums in different ways. In general, national and local authority museums are the hardest hit – one director recently described next year to me as looking like carnage, and said there would be blood on the floor if the scale of proposed cuts went ahead.

But others, including some independent and university museums, have fared better, and have valuable lessons to share about resilience and sustainability.

The MA's seminar on this subject in Manchester last week really made me think about what we can do, as organisations and individuals, when faced with difficult times. Leadership and personal resilience are essential if organisations are to survive.

But mission and purpose are crucial too – there's no point in keeping the doors open if the cupboard is bare – and with one in 10 museums considering selling from collections, there's a danger that some soon might be.

We are revamping the resilience section on the MA website and would like you to share your thoughts and case studies with us. Sharing best practice was a key learning point that came out of a meeting about delivering Museums Galleries Scotland's national strategy, which I attended this week.

It sounds pretty obvious but the principle of sharing skills, knowledge and expertise is one that can usefully be applied to many areas of work, whether it's participatory practice, working with volunteers or looking for new ways of fundraising. In all those cases learning from those already doing it is a good way of increasing your organisation's capacity.

The other thing that people who work in museums are telling me they want is advocacy. You want to be able to demonstrate your own worth to stakeholders, funders and the public and you want the MA to shout loudly about the value of museums on your behalf.

Interestingly this conversation about value seems to be turning more in the direction of health, wellbeing and social impact rather than just relying on the "for every pound you invest, museums generate xxx for the local economy" argument.

Of course the latter stats are important, but demonstrating the social value of museums to communities is gaining traction with funders and politicians alike.

And this is where Museums Change Lives, the MA's vision for the positive social impact that museums can have, comes in. It's not just a manifesto for change, it's an advocacy document that we can all use to make the case.