Spring fever

Sharon Heal, 23.03.2016
Radical ideas and action are gaining momentum
The spring equinox is traditionally a time to celebrate new beginnings and rebirth.

And it definitely feels that way after a week of conferences, debates and discussions on topics ranging from collections and impact, to diversity, and women in leadership (or lack thereof).

On Monday the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, which is administered by the Museums Association (MA), held one of its regular network days. These events give participants the chance to share best practice and discuss progress.

The programme distributes nearly £1m a year to museums and galleries for innovative work with collections. The criteria for the fund has evolved recently to include a greater emphasis on partnership work and projects that deliver public benefit and impact.

This is reflected in the wide range of projects that are funded, from National Museums Liverpool’s work with partner museums to research and share stories from collections relating to transatlantic slavery to Museums Sheffield’s project to share collections and ideas relating to protest and activism in the city.

On Wednesday the MA hosted a debate about diversity – looking at what has been achieved and how far there is to go still. An amazing array of speakers challenged the audience, and the sector and funders, to think more broadly about diversity.

Jodi-Alissa Bickerton, the creative learning director at the Graeae Theatre Company, said that diversity shouldn’t be viewed as optional but as a creative opportunity, and arts consultant and theatre creative Hassan Mahamdallie pointed to the need for more change - both structural and incremental.

And change at micro and macro levels was also on the agenda at the Space Invaders Network for Change conference on Friday.

The event looked at how we can campaign for equality in leadership and job opportunities for women.

A heavyweight line up of speakers included Nirmal Puwar, whose book Space Invaders, which looks at what happens when women take up positions that they have been traditionally excluded from, gave its name to the conference.

The inspirational Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, reinforced the idea that museums have a central role to play as forums for public discussion and called on museums to celebrate and debate 2018 – the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act and the Ford Dagenham equal pay dispute.

As well as talk there were also actions and we hope to get together a network of people and institutions that are interested in doing something in 2018.

Little actions matter too - watch MullenLowe's film about how children define career opportunities and then see if you feel inspired to sign up to volunteer as a role model for the next generation.

All in all it felt like we had some significant conversations last week and that radical new ideas and action are gaining momentum. We could be at the start of something new: join us.