Q&A with Rowan Brown

Outgoing MA trustee Rowan Brown reflects on her six years on the board
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
With less than a week to go until the 29 January deadline for candidates to put themselves forward for election to the Museums Association’s (MA) board, we spoke to outgoing board member Rowan Brown about the six years she spent helping to govern the MA. Brown is currently director of the Alfred Gillett Trust and will join the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland as director in February.

What were the highlights of being a board member for the MA?

I have been exceptionally fortunate in serving two terms as an MA board member – a total of six years – and as such, it’s incredibly difficult to choose just one or two highlights from my time on the board.

I’m immensely proud of the MA’s new Code of Ethics and I’m an ardent supporter of Museums Change Lives. We’ve distributed £4.9m to the sector through the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund and we’re growing the future workforce leadership through Transformers.

The annual conference is always a source of great joy and inspiration, as are our board away days, and spending time across the UK behind the scenes at National Museum Wales, Luton Culture, Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and National Museums Liverpool (to name but a few) has been a real privilege and an invaluable source of learning.
I’m personally inspired by the challenge of governing a UK-wide charity in the context of devolution, and I’m delighted that the MA’s public content and policy position is now geographically and politically specific, enabling all of our members to learn from the richness and diversity of different approaches to governance, funding and administration.
Above all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with talented individuals who I truly admire through the MA staff, the board and the numerous individuals who support the MA through positions on our external committees. 

What will you take away from your time on the board?

Owing to the generosity of MA staff and board colleagues, I have learned a considerable amount during my time served on the board. Whether it’s watching the shrewd political operating of my senior colleagues, or being challenged by the diversity of views, I have acquired new perspectives on cultural practice across the UK and beyond.

The portfolios I’ve adopted, such as business planning and property management, have enabled me to serve the membership effectively and broaden my skill base, dovetailing existing skills and professional responsibilities with just enough challenge to ensure personal growth. 

What did you find to be the greatest challenges of the role?

There is no denying that the workload is considerable, especially as the charity has gone through some seismic changes over the course of the last six years, but I suppose the main challenge has been trying to serve the membership to the best of my abilities, which, for a charity with UK-wide responsibilities and international ambitions, practically entails learning about global operating contexts and instilling international best practice into our day-to-day operations. 

Did your experience as a board member influence your day-to-day work?

My experience on the board has been transformative for my day-to-day work. In practical terms, understanding different organisational approaches to core activities such as business planning, staff management or reconstituting charities is immensely helpful, and though I’ve served as a trustee for numerous organisations, being able to reflect and share the details of my commitment to the MA role with my own trustees has helped me to manage the board relations in my own institution more effectively.

At times when I’ve faced personal challenges in the course of my day job, I’ve benefited from the experience and generosity of the MA executive team and my fellow board members, who have been incredibly supportive. Ultimately, having the chance to work collaboratively with many of my "museum heroes" has transformed my confidence and my outlook. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in standing for the board?

As my rather outdated and somewhat embarrassing MA board election campaign video testifies, I was motivated to stand because I didn’t feel the professional body represented the core interests and requirements of my own institution – namely a nuanced appreciation of the realities of working in Scotland and of the particular joys and challenges that stem from managing an independent industrial site.
Six years on, I can reflect on how both of those issues have been addressed through the board’s outputs: through the specific focus of the board’s Nations Committee and through the impact of specific policies and grant funding programmes.

Though I’ve benefited personally from my experience, I believe it’s vital for any charity trustee to have more altruistic incentives for participation, and though inevitably there is still room for improvement on some of the issues that prompted my trusteeship, I’m very proud of the fact that the association is now financially stable, with record membership levels and staff working from national and regional locations.

I’m delighted that the MA has a strong campaigning position and is developing and maintaining great relations with sector bodies and key stakeholders across the world, and I smile every time I see the image of visitors enjoying the unparalleled experience of visiting National Museums Wales’ Big Pit, which graces the cover of our Code of Ethics.

If you choose to stand, expect a hefty workload, a life-changing learning opportunity, incredible experiences at home and abroad and a huge amount of fun along the way. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the membership for their patience and support during the association’s transitional years, and for giving me the opportunity to serve our professional body. I would also like to thank Sharon Heal, her wonderful colleagues and my fellow board members for the most incredible experience, which will no doubt colour my outlook and provide me with inspiration for the rest of my career.

Information and links

There are three vacancies on the MA board this year, all of which are for a three-year term beginning on 1 April. Candidates must be individual MA members and require two other members to support their nomination.

A full description of the role and guidance on how to put your name forward can be found here: www.mi-nomination.com/ma2017

Nominations must be submitted by 11.59pm on 29 January. Voting commences in early February, with the results due on 2 March.

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