Full steam ahead for new MLA chief - Museums Association

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Full steam ahead for new MLA chief

Last month it was announced that Roy Clare, the former director of the National Maritime Museum (NMM) in Greenwich, had accepted the top job at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).
Putting aside, for a minute, the temptation to dwell on nautical puns, a change of chief executive is probably as good a time as any to think about what needs doing at the MLA and, more importantly, what it can do for museums.

The troubled past of the organisation in its various incarnations, with its parade of previous leaders, and its penchant for restructuring, is well known. If the organisation needs anything now it is a period of stability. The idea of a move to Birmingham should be scratched from the start - good people will be lost in transit and the upheaval of a physical move and all that it entails is the exact opposite of what is needed.

Clare takes over in September so the most pressing task in his in-tray will be impressing on the government how much Renaissance in the Regions has achieved and campaigning hard to wring the extra cash from the Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn. With a communications and marketing team of 14 at MLA headquarters, surely a good case can be made.

There is also the question of a national strategy for museums. The consultation paper Understanding the Future: Museums and 21st Century Life was supposed to provide a platform for a national strategy when it was published in January 2005. After a protracted consultation period it looks like a final set of recommendations, and something approaching a strategy, will be with us by January 2008. This cannot be allowed to slip further.

There seems to be some positive movement around the Cultural Olympiad from MLA, but if the objectives outlined in its prospectus Setting the Pace, such as the delivery of the international exhibitions programme, are to be met, then fundraising still needs to be done.
Then there is the organisation itself - one of Clare's first questions must be: is it fit for purpose? There is a strong feeling that despite some hard work on behalf of museums that it is an organisation mired in bureaucracy and lacking in confidence. Although further tinkering with the structure may not be welcome, it may be necessary.

What qualities will Clare bring to the job? At the NMM he was liked and respected for his openness and forthright views, and the organisation has done well under his direction. He brings an outside perspective from his time in the navy and knows a thing or two about leadership - he has been known to quote the leadership methods of great naval captains of the past.

Staff at the MLA say they want leadership but not interference. If ever there was an organisation that needs leading, here it is. Welcome aboard Roy.

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