Joining forces

Simon Stephens, 26.03.2014
What are the pros and cons of museums working in partnership?
The Power of Partnerships conference organised by the Cumbria Museum Consortium took place last week and it was an appropriate name for an event that attracted more than 100 delegates from a wide range of organisations.

Speakers at the Rheged Centre near Penrith included Arts Council England’s director of museums John Orna-Ornstein, and Martin Roth, the director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

There were also the three museum directors that make up the Cumbria Museum Consortium – Hilary Wade of Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust in Carlisle, Michael McGregor from the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere and Gordon Watson of Lakeland Arts Trust. Delegates included representatives from the National Museum Directors' Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I was there as part of research I'm doing for a feature on museum partnerships that will be published in the June issue of Museums Journal.

As would be expected of a conference about partnerships, it was all very positive and upbeat. After all, in these difficult financial times, working together is one way to make resources go further.

But among all the positivity there were some areas that are a bit more complex.

Some of the issues are to do with the way partnerships operate. Are partnerships really an efficient way of working – what about all the extra work that goes on maintaining the partnership itself? Should partnerships be time limited? What is the optimum number of partners in a partnership?

Other issues are about the partners themselves. How important is it for partners to be close geographically?

The National Museum Directors' Council is keen for national museums to work with museums in the regions, but can this be done in a way that is genuinely mutually beneficial?

Do partnerships work better if the organisations involved are all similar types of museums – all trusts, for example, as is the case with the Cumbria Museum Consortium.

There are lots of questions here to address in the forthcoming feature. But one thing is certain – with funders and others keen for them to work, museum partnerships are here to stay.