United we stand, divided we fall - Museums Association

United we stand, divided we fall

Charles Saumarez Smith, the new president of the Museums Association, calls for a unified response to the issues that face museums and galleries
Charles Saumarez Smith
Being elected the president of the Museums Association (MA) and, at the same time, being asked to say a few words at the annual conference about my aims and aspirations as the president has provided me with an opportunity - indeed, the necessity - to stand back and consider some of the issues that I am likely to face in the role.

First, I should perhaps note that I am conscious that it is relatively unusual for a director of a national museum to hold the office - although I think Ian Robertson was a president before becoming the director of the National Army Museum, Max Hebditch was certainly president not so long ago while he was the director of the Museum of London and David Fleming became the director of National Museums Liverpool while serving as the MA president. But it is probably unusual for the director of the National Gallery to be the president and the reasons why it is not common are probably exactly the reasons why I am pleased to have been chosen.

In truth, I was interested in taking on the role when I was asked because I have always taken the view that the purpose of the MA is to represent the museum community as a whole. It has done this with increasing professionalism over the past two decades, and since this is the case, it is important that the national museums make sure they are involved in the activities of the association and their views are effectively represented in its work. This was why I first put myself forward to become the representative of the National Museums Directors' Conference on the MA council and why I subsequently succumbed to the suggestion of Mark Taylor, the director of the MA, that I might put my name forward as the vice-president and now the president.

I think that the relationship between the national and non-national museums is particularly important at the moment. It has been one of the striking developments of the past five years or so that we have begun to work more obviously and effectively as a unified sector. I greatly appreciated the fact that the national museums were closely involved with the major regional museums and the independent museums in lobbying government in England for additional funding earlier this year.

I am also aware that something of the same process is happening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Indeed, it is obvious that simply having a common voice is as important to the political community as what is actually said. In England, I know that the MA played a pivotal role in pulling together the apparently disparate parts of the museum community into a process that produced the collective Manifesto for Museums.

Of course, there are different views as to the effectiveness of coordinated lobbying and how far it changed the Treasury's views. Not everyone thinks that lobbying in public helps one's cause behind the scenes. But, at the very least, it demonstrated very clearly that we do have common interests and purposes, and that there is more that unites than divides us. We have, after all, a common mandate in

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