Iain Watson (L); Simon Green (R)

The conversation

Iain Watson; Simon Green, Issue 114/03, p17, 01.03.2014
Is it possible to convince local authorities of the value of museums?
Iain Watson is the director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums; Simon Green is the assistant head of culture and lifestyles at Hull City Council

Dear Simon:

Local authorities are experiencing budget reductions on an unprecedented
 scale. They are making cuts that they would not choose to make.

The
 fact that they continue to fund museums across the country shows that they 
recognise the intrinsic, social, cultural and educational value of
 museums.

Museums, particularly over the past 15 years, have clearly demonstrated how they can change lives and contribute to enhanced 
quality of life. Surely this is something that every local authority will value?

Iain

Dear Iain:

These budget reductions are hitting services previously thought of as
 sacrosanct in areas such as health and caring for the vulnerable.

Is it
 enough for museums merely to cite our track record in articulating our 
intrinsic value? Should we seek to make a more direct impact on those 
other agendas, rather than depend solely on the implied benefits of our offer? 

Perhaps the time has come for us to be braver about using our
 resources, skills, knowledge and expertise in delivering more directly
 to some of these areas of activity alongside our more traditional role?

Simon


Dear Simon:

Agreed. We have a phrase here of which we are rather fond: “Shy bairns get nowt”. It works for a lot of situations and this is certainly one of them. In the past, I think we have delivered social benefit with cultural money. We now need to be explicit that we will need social money to deliver social outcomes.

To risk another truism, miners’ banners in the north east often showed the parable of the “bundle of sticks”. If we are going to do this, it will be necessary to work together and in partnership.

Iain

Dear Iain:

It sounds as if we step forward together as bold as brass and make a big ask of those who we think we can work with delivering social outcomes.

The question then becomes whether we can do this as a sector or whether we need other help. Some don’t agree with marriages of convenience, but should we assume that we are the only ones who can make our case?

Here in Hull, we have worked hard to get some key decision-makers on side to make our case and to challenge our thinking. Perhaps the sector needs to branch out.

Simon

Dear Simon:

Perhaps we can also engage Local Enterprise Partnerships in the process. We need to look at how we can achieve scale in this work. As individual museums, we can achieve outcomes that make a difference for a relatively small number of people. But by joining up with others in the cultural sector, maybe we can make a difference at a population level.


Iain


Dear Iain:

I think that is an excellent idea. My experience of Local Enterprise Partnerships is that they are keen to hear from all sectors and engage in the discussion. They might prove to be powerful advocates for our impact if we can give them the solid evidence they will need.

As you say, a joined-up voice for the cultural sector will carry weight and impact. I will be speaking to colleagues in theatres and in the arts here in Hull, so perhaps UK City of Culture 2017 might be our starting point for that collective voice?

Simon

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