Leicester museums to restructure curatorial team

Service will focus resources on connecting audiences to collections
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Leicester’s museums are to move away from subject specialist curation in order to focus on linking their collections more to audiences, under new plans proposed by Leicester City Council.

The council’s department for arts, museums, festivals and events is facing a cut of approximately £320,000 to its funding for 2019-20 and is undergoing a review to find ways to increase its self-sufficiency, generate more income and ensure “the resources available are used in the most effective way”.

The department, which oversees seven museums and historic venues in the city, has already made around half of the necessary savings by deleting five vacant posts. The review seeks to “replace the current structure, which has not been reviewed for some time and is not fit for purpose, with a new structure”, according to a statement from the council.

The restructure will see four curator posts removed and the curatorial team renamed as the “audience development and engagement team”. A new post of exhibitions and displays manager will be created to manage interpretation, make collections accessible and deliver a “high quality exhibitions and display programme”.

A spokeswoman for the council said the new structure would include some new Arts Council England-funded posts, but that these would not be replacing the council-funded curator posts. They will instead focus on specific areas of engagement such as learning, community engagement, and health and wellbeing. The service's existing learning and community engagement posts are being retained.  

The spokeswoman said the service remained fully committed to maintaining Accreditation standards and the stewardship of its collections, with seven posts dedicated to making the collections accessible, caring for them and documenting them. The service's collections manager post will be retained.

“Expertise from museum professionals including at a senior level is an important element of the new staff structure,” said the council’s statement.
 
The statement continued: “The new structure marks a move away from prioritising resource for subject specialist curation. Instead, the service will focus on new ways to support different perspectives, voices and viewpoints in order to increase the service’s relevance to more diverse audiences and particularly to attract those who are traditionally ‘non-museum’ goers. We want to make Leicester’s museums more relevant to the city’s diverse communities.”

The changes have been driven by a desire to focus more on using collections to engage audiences, said Leicester’s head of arts and museums, Jo Jones, who is leading the review.

“We’re looking at the need for the service to modernise and be much more user-focused,” she said.

The restructure had been long overdue, Jones added. “The service hasn’t had such a review for a number of years so while savings had to be made, it wasn’t about that. The council is very supportive of culture.”

Jones said the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives campaign had been a key driver for the new structure, which aims to increase community participation and involve the city’s residents more in the service’s decision-making.

The council plans to set aside a budget for guest curators, which it said would enable specialist curatorial knowledge to be “delivered in a different way”.
 
“There’s a budget built in for freelance specialist curators who can bring in new perspectives,” said Jones, who added that the service had successfully trialled this approach during the redevelopment of New Walk Museum’s Egyptian Gallery last year.

The council said it would try to redeploy as many people as possible whose roles are displaced by the restructure. Jones said she couldn’t comment on the redundancies while the review is ongoing.

The review is due to conclude by the end of March.

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