Birmingham Museums Trust will have two new leaders in November when Sara Wajid and Zak Mensah step into their roles as joint CEOs of the organisation.
The announcement breaks new ground for both the trust and the sector; it is the first time the service will be led by a person of colour since it became a trust in 2012, and makes it one of just two organisations represented on the National Museum Directors’ Council to have BAME leadership. It is also one of the only instances of job-sharing taking place at the level of CEO in the museum sector.
The trust said the appointment is intended to cement its “commitment to representing the people of the city at all levels across the organisation”.
Wajid joins the trust from the Museum of London, where she is the head of engagement for the museum’s new capital project. She previously worked at Birmingham Museums Trust on a 15-month secondment, when she produced The Past is Now, the influential 2017 exhibition on the British Empire that pioneered decolonisation practice in the sector.
Mensah is currently the head of transformation at Bristol Museums, where he has played a significant role in growing the service’s income by 100% within three years, as well as leading programmes focusing on continuous improvement and technology.
The pair replace Ellen MacAdam, who stepped down in June after seven years in the role. They will be joining at a turbulent time for the trust, which currently undergoing redundancy consultations due the impact of the Covid pandemic.
Wajid said: “Being appointed as joint CEO to Birmingham Museums Trust is a very special honour for me and it’s in part thanks to the experience I gained on the arts council Change Makers programme at Birmingham Museums Trust in 2016. That's what I call effective anti-racist succession planning.
“Zak and I were inspired to apply for this role together through our involvement in Museum Detox (an anti-racist museum collective). We hope it could be a useful blueprint for others considering their future in the sector, and that we won't be in such a small cohort of people of colour leading museums for long.”
Mensah said: “Sara and I aim to ensure Birmingham Museums Trust remains resilient and delivers services that are inclusive, allowing people to connect and learn. On a personal note I'm proud to be a demonstration of being part of the change you seek to make at an institutional level and look forward to making a ruckus.”
Niels de Vos, the chair of Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “This appointment is a transformational moment for Birmingham Museums Trust and allows us to plan confidently for the future after what has been a very turbulent few months. Sara and Zak’s experience, proven past results and their openness to experiment and push boundaries is what made them standout candidates.
"The sector needs to diversify from the top if there is to be a real shift in how museums operate and how their collections are presented. Sara and Zak are trailblazers and they reflect the character of this city: young, futuristic and diverse. Their dynamic partnership will mark a very exciting new chapter for Birmingham Museums Trust and for the city.”
The trust manages nine sites across the city: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Thinktank, Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Weoley Castle and the Museum Collections Centre.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery recently announced that it is reopening to the public on Wednesday 7 October after being closed for six months due to the Covid pandemic.