Collections, audiences and funding are high on MLA agenda

Roy Clare, the chief executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, outlines his plans
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Sharon Heal
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Although the interview took place before the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) were announced, Clare was keen to stress that he would take a different approach to funding the Renaissance in the Regions scheme.

"We need to incentivise further change - that means a different way of doing the grants mechanisms. Renaissance future funding should begin to follow examples of best practice."

He said there was a need to look beyond the "straitjacket" of phase one and two hubs to where the money could make the biggest difference. "The basic architecture is fine but we should not have a methodology that says you got x last time, therefore you'll get x this time."

Beyond Renaissance, Clare was keen to stress that although museums have done some good work, there are still substantial items to grapple with - in particular collections, audiences and funding. "If we're agreed that collections are fundamental, the access of audiences to them is of indivisible importance."

"I'm interested in non-users - a non-user can be converted into a user if the agenda is right." And for Clare, new audiences and new users can equal new money. "New audiences are potentially new patrons - financially, emotionally, spiritually and in terms of advocacy."

On the trickier question of what the MLA can do about all of this, Clare is determined that it can make a difference. "The MLA as a partnership has a very strong role to play. It has a footprint in every region and, although there are organisational issues with the partnership in terms of how it developed, the partnership as an idea will get stronger, and it fits in with the government idea of national strategy delivered locally." Although what exactly that national strategy is, has been unclear so far.

Getting the right data and evidence has been an issue for the MLA since its inception. Clare says a key task for MLA now will be being clearer about impact. "We've hired consultants... and we're still no clearer about impact because sometimes examples are not economically sound."

He is keen that the MLA should have a stronger research and evidence capacity, in partnership with the higher- education sector and other bodies.

Although museums appear to have got off lightly in this spending round, Clare warned that government funding at current levels cannot be guaranteed. "We need to bring in funds from other places; and we also need to be connected to the other agendas on learning and regeneration."

Having run the National Maritime Museum he is no stranger to the issues that have dogged the profession - including pay. "We don't have a proud record of how we honour curatorship with cash," he said. "But we shouldn't tire of pointing out the absurdity that a good museum depends upon people whose salaries are modest in contemporary terms.

After the CSR, the next big agenda item is the Olympics and there has been anxiety that aside from swallowing large chunks of money that would have otherwise gone to museums, there has been a distinct lack of activity so far. But Clare is adamant that the games are an opportunity, not a threat. He says he expects the nationals to be doing great things, "but everybody has to feel they have a role to play ".

So the MLA has survived the spending round. Hopefully it will now be able to provide some much needed leadership for the sector.

In his own words

Roy Clare

"In some areas, quite small sums of money have done fantastic work, and in other areas quite large sums of money remain to be felt. We will have to work with the hubs to place the money where it should be - it's not about an automatic formula."

"A lot of the existing data doesn't stand the test of relevancy to impact. It's not rigorous enough."

"Part of collections development is disposal and I support the direction that the MA is debating."

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