Catherine Gillies on the make-up of boards
Catherine Gillies
For all the astonishing variety across the UK’s museums, there is a depressing shortage of vision and open minds when it comes to appointing board members.

The larger institutions carry a preponderance of capable people of a recognisable type – men and women who speak the language of urban and semi-urban cultural bodies and offer safety.

As an ex-independent museum director, now freelance, I see far too few members on national boards who represent independent or small museums, or, indeed, the disenfranchised areas with minimal access to formal culture: rich in intangible heritage but not in the built cultural zone.

There is often a mirror image of the problem at the other end. Lucky independents manage to hook an “establishment” museum figure, but all too often they lack that bite.

Too many smaller museum boards are dysfunctional, populated with tired volunteers and over-committed local businessmen and women with no museum background.

What these museums, large and small, share is a certain bunker mentality when it comes to board appointments, choosing from among their own. While that may be cosy, it is frequently neither functional nor expansive.

If the new partnership mantra is to be taken to its limits, then a holistic view of museum board membership is the next step. The independents need the heavyweights’ experience, and the nationals need fresh voices from the independent sector.

Work together and share out the skills – we all need to play less safe.

Museums Journal poll: is there a shortage of good museum trustees?

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