Head to head - Museums Association

Head to head

Is it worth having a national strategy for museums?
Keith Merrin; Rachael Rogers
Rachael Rogers is the president of the Federation of Museums and Galleries of Wales; Keith Merrin is the chief executive of the Woodhorn Charitable Trust, Northumberland.

Dear Keith:

My experience so far is yes. We’ve had one in Wales since 2010 and are experiencing the benefits. Museums are all different and it can be difficult to see the areas of commonality a small volunteer run museum shares with a large national.

By setting out a route map, a national strategy can provide a framework where all types of museums, and the professionals within them, can make a contribution to a common goal.

Regards, Rachael

Dear Rachael:

A national strategy suggests top-down goal setting and a fixed model of what a museum should be doing. As you would expect, the Association of Independent Museums believes in a bottom-up, independent approach that encourages museums to truly respond to the needs of local communities and try things that are a bit different. In my experience, much of the best practice and innovation in museums in England is happening in this way.


Dear Keith:

A national strategy doesn’t necessarily mean a top-down approach. Practically, one organisation has to take the lead drafting it, but the Welsh strategy went through wide consultation, resulting in a document which many contributed to. Goals aren’t prescriptive and there is something there for all museums.

Different organisations, including museums, are taking lead or partner roles; so museums with great policies, strategies and ideas can showcase and share their expertise with the museum community. Having one just means we can provide a great service, both individually, and also collectively.

Best wishes, Rachael

Dear Rachael:

It sounds more like an advocacy document than a strategy. We already have the new Accreditation standard, which sets out the principles of being a museum and Arts Council England’s (ACE) Culture, Knowledge and Understanding document, which sets out the strategic context for ACE’s support for museums.

I am not convinced we need another document to clutter our shelves. Does the Welsh government back the strategy in the way that it distributes national funding for museums and, if so, is this a change from the way money was spent before?

Best wishes, Keith

Dear Keith:

Surely it needs to be broad to enable innovative ideas to flourish? And shouldn’t a good strategy double up as an advocacy tool? Its relevance to all should be praised; it stops it gathering dust and it complements Accreditation.

The government is backing the strategy. It grant aids a project which supports areas individual museums lead on. It also requires that museums applying for grants demonstrate their project is driving it forward. My experience shows that a national strategy is the impetus for very different museums to work together on an equal basis.

Kind regards, Rachael

Dear Rachael:

I am pleased that good things are happening in Wales, but remain unconvinced of the value of a national strategy for England. To have any real meaning, government would need to be committed to a complete review of its funding of national museums and Renaissance and I can’t see many in those funded institutions or ACE being keen on stirring up such a discussion at this time.

It would simply be another set of aspirations for us all to sign up to, but not backed with any real structural changes, or worse, another set of homogenised criteria for those of us not in nationally funded museums to justify when trying to utilise the crumbs left over in Renaissance.


There will be a session about museum strategies in Wales and Scotland at the MA conference (8-9 November, Edinburgh)

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