Diverse voices

Sharon Heal, 19.11.2014
I'd like the MA to be a forum for debate and ideas
Day one, week one, director of the Museums Association (MA).

This is scary, challenging and exciting stuff. It’s one thing being a senior manager and having joint interim responsibility for running the MA - it’s another thing entirely being in charge of the whole kit and caboodle.

Although I officially started on Monday, at the end of last week I was in Dundee for our Scottish members' meeting. Going to members' meetings has been one of the highlights of the past two years at the MA for me.

We introduced them when we had a change of governance in 2011. The idea was to keep in touch with our members and connect with them. As a membership organisation I think it is vital that we listen to what our members say and think.

These meetings are a great way of doing this and having been to all 16 of them so far, in places as varied as Cardiff, Colchester, Birmingham and Belfast, I have been lucky to meet a range of members at very different stages in their careers and from a wide variety of institutions.

One of the great things about these meetings is that they are a good leveller: directors, students, volunteers and a range of people who work in the sector mingle, share ideas and voice their views on current issues and what the MA should be focusing on.

And these views - on ethical dilemmas, social impact, using collections, the effect of budget cuts, the future of museums, and professional development - have helped inform my thinking about where the sector is, what it can achieve and what the role of the MA is.

Each meeting is different and reflects the region or nation in which it is held. We’ve been to big national museums, local authority museums, trusts, and major independents.

Every experience has helped me understand the diversity of the sector, the richness of collections, the differing views we have, the range of staff, the myriad ways in which we engage with the public, and what unites us.    

What I loved about Dundee was meeting a combination of people relatively new to the sector and the MA as well as people who have worked in museums and supported the MA for many years.

At our recent annual conference in Cardiff, I summed up the mission of the MA as: campaign, collaborate and connect. And our members’ meetings are a critical part of delivering that.

What I have also realised is that talking and listening together makes us stronger. Dialogue and debate are powerful concepts for engaging the public in our museums.

The MA can and should provide a forum for discussion and ideas, and that’s precisely what I hope we will be.