We have now spent almost 18 months living with high levels of Vuca. Excuse the management speak, but before the pandemic, I am sure that many of us will have discussed dealing with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (Vuca) in our work.
We’d often talk about responding to changing circumstances – circumstances that were hard to predict. There was rarely enough time for reflection. And we were adept at making decisions that weighed up multiple factors, often competing, at once.
Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been grappling with Vuca on every front, personally and professionally. But hope is forming on the horizon. Museums are reopening. We are reminded of the role they have as places for recovery, reflection and reconnection. A much-needed antidote to Vuca living.
And so, as we tentatively start to inch towards the next normal, and a life beyond one’s own physical and digital walls, what’s next for us as funders?
The funder response to Covid is perhaps best epitomised by the “we stand with the sector” pledge, which was coordinated by a range of funders and signed by hundreds. This allowed us to reimagine the art of the possible.
Funders were called on to prioritise and offer flexibility, adaptability and support to applicants and those they fund. We did so in many ways, including launching emergency funds, providing grant uplifts, changing reporting requirements, and removing breaks between a grant ending and an organisation reapplying.
Some funders had to close to new applications or close completely, but many stayed open and delivered more support than they would ordinarily.
There’s a shared ambition to learn from and embed these new ways of working, and to avoid reverting to our pre-pandemic ways. This should mean that we will continue to operate with greater trust and transparency, and a renewed focus on redressing the power imbalances that exist between funders and those they fund.
Since the first lockdown, we have made 12 grants, worth about £1m, through our Museums and Galleries Fund – seven in May 2020 and five in May 2021. These grants were towards the core costs of curatorial work.
Each institution demonstrated real commitment to nurturing and championing curatorial excellence and expertise within their organisation, for the benefit of their visitors, their communities, the industries and causes they represent, and the wider museum profession.
Throughout our assessment of applications, we saw time and again just how resourceful and creative the sector has been in the face of the pandemic.
We read countless descriptions of museums expanding their reach by transforming their digital and online offer. Many continued important curatorial work, exploring the origins of their collections. Others invested time and talent in producing an engaging visitor experience that was Covid-19 compliant and made great use of their indoor and/or outdoor spaces.
As we emerge from the pandemic, and return our focus more fully to matters such as the climate and biodiversity crises, we can be sure that there is plenty for funders to support within the museum sector.
Sufina Ahmad is the director of the John Ellerman Foundation. It is among a number of organisations speaking at this year’s Museums Association Conference (November 8-10) in a session about the future
of museum funding