One year on

Sharon Heal, 25.11.2015
The MA's director looks back on the highs and lows of the past year
Anniversaries are handy things in museums and in life. Useful pegs to hang things on, good opportunities if used well for some self-reflection and as a platform to think about what next.

Last week was the one-year anniversary of my becoming director of the Museums Association and so I took the chance to think about what has changed in the past year, what we have achieved at the MA and what the year ahead might hold.

For museums the picture is mixed – the best of times and the worst of times – as we celebrate increasing visitor numbers and demand for our services at the same time as the workforce shrinks, empty desk syndrome becomes the new normal and savage cuts loom.

In the wider world the refugee crisis, the Scottish referendum and English devolution have all raised questions for me about how museums deal with these contemporary issues and what impact they might have on audiences, governance and funding.

And at the MA we have thought long and hard about what our role is and how we work with others.

Reviewing the Code of Ethics over the past 18 months has been an instructive process. Working constructively and collaboratively with other sector bodies has paid off both in terms of the final document but also hopefully in good relations for the future. It’s vital that in such a small sector we work together for maximum impact.

The review of the code was prompted by our work on Museums Change Lives and that campaign continues apace. We are still gathering case studies and best practice and there is a real international appetite for the ideas - our challenge for the future is how do we embed and extend our work in this area?

What the two campaigns have in common is the idea of values-based change. This runs through all that we do at the MA including our current review of workforce, exploring what the sector needs and what the MA can offer in terms of professional development – look out for more on this next year as we roll out the findings.

Looking to the immediate future museums will face a tough time dealing with the levels of cuts that are being threatened and the uncertainty that will bring. The one thing that is certain is that the MA will advocate for all museums regardless of their size or governance or funding arrangements.