Trust status still on the agenda for beleaguered museums

Gareth Harris, 06.11.2015
Conference delegates reflect on strategies for survival
The drawbacks and advantages of switching to trust status were on the agenda again this year at the MA conference, as delegates mulled over the recommendations of the recent review on the future of local museum provision in Wales during the session Reflect and Survive.

The review, which was undertaken earlier this year by a four-strong panel, including Haydn Edwards, the vice-president of Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales), put forward 10 recommendations that should be prioritised by local authorities and the Welsh government.

Lesley-Anne Kerr, head of access, learning and ICT at Cymal (Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales) discussed why the survey was necessary. “Museums were not seen as community assets but as a drain on resources,” she said. “There had to be an external view by an independent panel.”

The temperature of the sector had to be gauged, said Kerr, as a flurry of institutions were considering trust status. The review’s findings raised eyebrows, especially the warning that a number of Welsh institutions could turn into substandard “zombie museums”.

But Ken Skates, the Welsh government’s deputy minister for culture, sport and tourism, has yet to respond to its recommendations, said Kerr due to the implications of the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review on 25 November.

Delegates were especially keen to hear about the plight of Derby Museums Trust. Its executive director, Tony Butler, described the processes and decisions behind the move to trust status which took place in 2012. Nick Dodd, who was appointed as interim director early 2013, identified weaknesses such as “the visitor experience is poor and income targets are over ambitious”.

Butler, who took up the post in December 2013, said that “we spent a considerable amount of time revisiting our mission”, experimenting with ways to involve the public more. When a delegate enquired about the trust’s fundraising status, Butler stressed that when he joined Derby Museums Trust, 2% of revenue was from earned income. “Now it’s 15% due to the reduction of [public] subsidy and use of our assets.”

His approach is based on several key principles including “good governance; assert our independence; and tell the truth to the staff”. This philosophy will hopefully stand the trust in good stead for the launch of a new museum, the Museum of Making, in 2019.

Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
10.11.2015, 00:33
It is always good to hear Tony Butler talk about museums. He somehow manages to be a great museum manager and come across as a well-adjusted normal human being.