Against precarity

Jess Turtle, 25.01.2017
How Transformers is helping to overcome uncertainty
As 2017 starts to unfold, it remains clear that we are living through times of great uncertainty and for many people, increasing precarity. More people are experiencing greater social and economic exclusion.

More people are subject to low or intermittent income, increased living costs, the impossibility - for many - of securing a place to call home and erosions in the most basic of rights.

This has been the case for some time now, but it is increasing. In response, cultural fault lines have emerged that demonstrate its impact. The Womens’ Marches held across the globe last Saturday can be read as the latest response to the condition of precarity, whether experienced or expected.

It is in this context of precarity that people are thinking about what action they can take, how they can make change happen. Sometimes that means taking action in your personal life, through how you choose to vote (as demonstrated so clearly last year) or through protesting.

For some of us, it’s important to feel that our professional life is contributing something too. I think that’s often true of those of us who work in the cultural sector.

Cultural professionals and institutions have a duty to make meaning of what is happening in the world around us; to document, to interpret, to share. This is especially important at times of great change.

Museums are not only custodians for the future, but also spaces where change can be made now, today. They are spaces where the complexities of what is going on around us can be unpicked and understood better. Creating these spaces and facilitating this process is part of our duty as museum professionals.

Since 2014 I’ve had the privilege of working with 46 individuals – and their institutions – who take that duty seriously. Participants on the MA’s Transformers programme have responded to this context of great uncertainty and precarity with new ideas, with energy and with purpose. MA Transformers believe in the social power of museums and believe that they – and their institutions – can change lives.

It has been immensely heartening to see individuals – colleagues – flourish on the programme and often in difficult circumstances. Museums are themselves occupying a place of precarity, rendered vulnerable through reductions in income and external threats just as individuals are.

The Transformers programme offers a space to work through these challenges, to gain support from peers and to generate creative responses to this current context. Participants return to their museums renewed, better able to contribute to their organisations and work with their communities and collections.

The MA and the funders of the Transformers programme believe that this investment is one worth continuing and indeed increasing. Through 2017 and 2018 we will work with around 170 individuals and their organisations on a new version of Transformers.

The programme has been designed to support people to deal with uncertainty; respond creatively to precarity; to find strength in themselves and others and to acquire a toolkit for change. Whatever else 2017 might bring, I know that I can look forward working with colleagues across all four nations of the United Kingdom to generate new energies and take action in this uncertain context.

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