I have more than 25 years’ experience working across national and regional museums, independent and local authority museums, rural, urban and volunteer-led museums. I’ve worked inside and outside the mainstream, in employed and self-employed roles. Most recently, I established a charity to create positive social change through Cornwall Museums Partnership, where I remained as CEO for six years.
These experiences form my belief that museums that are ambitiously inclusive, open and connected to the people and communities they exist to serve, can make a real difference to people’s lives. As I take up my new role as director of museums and cultural property at Arts Council England, I want to help unlock the potential of more museums to foster creativity and connection.
For museum teams across the country, it can feel that the challenges are never ending – navigating out of the pandemic is just one of them. I take my hat off to the many individuals, staff and volunteers, who have shown real determination and resilience over the past two years. I also recognise that there are still many pressing challenges ahead. In this context, the outcomes and principles which underpin our 10-year strategy, Let’s Create, feel especially relevant to me.
Central to our strategy is support for all museums as they continue evolving towards dynamic institutions that offer their communities spaces for learning, reflection, debate, and creativity.
I know that for museums, developing longer-term strategies can be hampered by constant "firefighting" in deteriorating buildings. I am pleased then that we can continue supporting vital infrastructure works across museums. We recently announced a second round of the Museum, Estate and Development fund. After the first round highlighted the scheme’s demand, the second round offers investment for urgent maintenance repairs that are beyond the scope of day-to-day maintenance budgets, for non-national Accredited museums and local authorities across England. Unsuccessful round one applicants can reapply.
Additionally, our refreshed, open-access National Lottery Project Grant programme means that now, more museums can benefit from funding more quickly. Museums applying for smaller grants can apply for up to £30,000 and get a decision within eight weeks. This streamlined process intends to encourage more agile, ambitious projects which respond to changing community needs.
We have expanded our eligibility, too. Now, museums – whether Accredited or not – are eligible to apply for National Lottery Project Grants. I hope to see applications from a diverse range of England’s museums.
Sometimes we will ask for specific types of applications as a ‘priority’ through our Project Grants, helping us achieve Let’s Create. As part of our commitment to funding museums and collections, our Unlocking Collections priority is available until March 2023.
I’m particularly interested in applications for projects that reinterpret collections and people's engagement with them; projects that enable a deeper understanding of museum collections’ provenance; and projects which increase the understanding of collections, use digital tools, or improve storage standards.
As the national development agency for museums we work to support England’s whole museums and collections ecology, and for some programmes, the wider UK. This is through the funds mentioned, but so much more. I know many museums and freelancers are actively supporting practical solutions for museums to raise awareness of, and help tackle, the climate crisis. Let’s Create sets out our ambitions toward Environmental Responsibility, and our next National Portfolio Organisation investments intend to catalyse this work.
We invest in Museums Development, a cohort of regional providers working in partnership to raise standards and drive excellence across the sector. We're planning some changes to the Museum Development programme, so that museums can successfully reset following the impact of the pandemic and to access more investment from us.
Current regional providers will continue to deliver Museum Development until at least the end of March 2024. In 2023, we will open applications for five strategic partners to work with us to deliver a reframed Museum Development programme 2024-26. We will share further details with the sector this year.
As I settle into my new role, I feel determination and enthusiasm to help museums maximise their impact and to be ambitious about inclusivity. Our support for England and the UK’s museums and collections is only growing stronger. I’m very excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Emmie Kell is the director of museums and cultural property at Arts Council England