As a Major Partner Museum, Leeds Museums and Galleries will be reviewed by an independent assessor

ACE to assess MPM artistic programmes

Gareth Harris, Issue 114/07, p7, 01.07.2014
Major Partner Museums to undergo assessment from October. Gareth Harris reports
Arts Council England (ACE) will undertake evaluations of its Major Partner Museums (MPMs) in a radical shake-up of its artistic assessment programme.

ACE’s Artistic and Quality Assessment (AQA) initiative will encompass MPMs funded by ACE as part of the Renaissance programme, from October.

ACE’s artistic assessment team undertook a range of pilot projects between 2012 and 2013 to expand the scope of its programme, which covers ACE-funded bodies such as National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs).

“The inclusion of museums acknowledges the need for richer, more nuanced discussions about quality, with an element of critical challenge around museums’ overall public engagement,” an ACE spokeswoman says. But some in the sector are concerned about the criteria that will be used in the MPM assessments.

“Assessors will be provided with clear prompts in the quality assessment form for museums to aid the assessment: for example, whether the work makes a contribution to advancing audience engagement practice within museums,” the ACE spokeswoman adds.

The independent assessors will come from a range of disciplines such as academia, museums and journalism – a move questioned by Maurice Davies, a partner in the Museum Consultancy.

“Assessors need to include parents with children, cultural tourists in a hurry, disabled people who don’t regularly visit museums and people from a variety of social backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and ages,” he says. It is critical assessors visit anonymously, adds Davies.

MPM leaders cautiously welcomed the AQA initiative. Gordon Watson, the chief executive of Lakeland Arts, which is part of the Cumbria Museums Consortium, says: “We have experience of such peer reviews, as we have been assessed previously as an NPO. This powerful mix of review and challenge is very useful, giving a more balanced quality assessment that is part of a wider toolkit.”

John Roles, head of Leeds Museums and Galleries, says: “The MPM programme has a broad range of goals that go further than artistic quality. Resources are going on much more than just temporary exhibitions: collections care, supporting community and outreach work and developing environmental sustainability. Is the AQA attempting to assess all of this?”

Janita Bagshawe, the director of Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove, welcomes a consistent peer review framework. But she says: “What will it mean to other funders, and how will it work with Accreditation?”

Major Partner Museums criteria

  • Have direct contact with an Arts Council England museums relationship manager on at least a quarterly basis.
  • Provide an annual report that includes statistical data and qualitative written evidence reflecting the previous year’s activity and achievements.
  • Provide annually a detailed plan of activity for the financial year and the accompanying budget and cashflow.
  • Develop strong knowledge of audiences, using audience segmentation tools.