Editorial - Museums Association


New delivery models are not a panacea
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Sharon Heal
There is a lot of talk about new models of delivery in museums and galleries at the moment. It might feel like clutching at straws, considering the present cuts and the huge cleaver that will fall on budgets next year, but it is always worth exploring different ways of doing things.

Models being looked at include the National Trust model (a small core of professional staff and a large group of volunteers); the charity shop model (along the lines of the National Trust but with even fewer paid staff); the private philanthropy model (reducing reliance on public funding); and the trust-status model.

Of course, the irony is that many of these models are already struggling. The National Trust is undergoing a major operational review, while relying on private giving didn’t save US museums from the recession, and trust status has not protected museums in Glasgow or Sheffield from cuts.

One model that appears to be new is the commissioning model, although this seems to mean different things to different people. For some museums, it’s about outsourcing services such as education
that might previously have been done by staff. It avoids overheads but is often a euphemism for cuts and privatisation. But commissioning can also mean providing schemes to promote wellbeing and learning, for example, for other local authority services such as health and education.

After exploring all these models, you might want to try the sit-and-weep-while-you-tear-your-hair-out model. It might be possible to alleviate some of the pain ahead but the truth is that there is no panacea.

What is important is to remember your defining purpose as an organisation — don’t shape your programme or activities to suit a passing political fancy. Stick to what you do best and, if in doubt, revisit your mission statement to ensure you’re on track.

And remember, museums and galleries throughout history have been subject to the whims of political favour and the vagaries of the economy. But in the end, most have proved to be exceptionally enduring.

Sharon Heal, editor



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