‘I hope that as a sector we retain these lessons we’re learning’ - Museums Association

‘I hope that as a sector we retain these lessons we’re learning’

Q&A with Charlotte Morgan, the manager of Cynon Valley Museum. Part of our series of conversations with MA members on how they are coping with the Covid-19 pandemic
What are the main challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for you? As an independent museum, losing our income generation opportunities has been a huge challenge, as it has been for many museums. With the museum closed, we have lost almost all of our methods of making money. We are turning our hand to online sales, but this can’t happen overnight! We have also been getting to grips with online engagement, remote volunteering, and emergency fundraising to secure the museum’s short term future. For me personally, this has meant lots of charity commission reading, legal webinars, and virtual meetings with our board of trustees to make quick, appropriate decisions. One of the benefits of being an independent museum with a small team is the ability to be agile, so we have been able to adapt fairly quickly. What has been the impact on staff and volunteers? Many of our volunteers stopped attending their shifts a few days before the museum officially closed, as many of them fall into the vulnerable groups. They have continued to be brilliant advocates for the museum, sharing our social media posts and encouraging their family and friends to sign up to our newsletter. Our staff have also adapted brilliantly, running with the move to working from home with no complaints, and continuing to collaborate with our communities whenever possible, to keep the museum’s community spirit alive. As a small charity, we have had to utilise the Government Job Retention Scheme, but our team have been understanding of the situation facing us. What support are you getting from the museum community?
The museum sector in Wales is so supportive and friendly, so there are always colleagues to ask for advice, support and guidance. The Federation of Welsh Museums and the Welsh Government have been quick to set up a stream of emergency funding to support the sector, which has been really helpful with setting up our team to work from home.
The guidance that has been available via the Museums Association (MA), the Association of Independent Museums, and non-museum organisations such as the Charity Finance Group has been invaluable in navigating the options for the Cynon Valley Museum Trust.
I’ve also, as always, found support in the Twitter world, seeing the brilliant initiatives such as #MuseumsUnlocked and #MuseumFromHome promoting the sector’s innovation at this time. The Welsh museum sector is looking forward to promoting the work across the country on 12 May, in place of our planned Museums at the Senedd day, which the Federation of Welsh Museums hosts each year in partnership with the MA.
How are you engaging with your audiences and communities during the crisis?
Our volunteers are creating blog posts, sharing highlights from our collection which are being shared on our Stories from the Collection website page. This has been a great opportunity to enable our volunteers to get (digitally) up close to the Museum’s collection and engage with groups such as the local History Society. We’ve also been creating a digital version of our temporary art exhibitions on our website page Exhibition from Home. We’re working closely with artists who have had popular exhibitions in the past, or those who have had to postpone a planned exhibition, to share and promote their work via our website and social medias. This has proven really popular with our audiences and has driven traffic to our website, which is usually underutilised. What is great about both of these initiatives is that as well as keeping our existing visitors in the loop about the museum, the are attracting a new, digital audience, who are generally more engaged online than our usual visitors. The initiatives are also small-scale enough for us to be able to continue undertaking them even when the Museum is able to reopen, embedding them in our ongoing practice, allowing us to retain the engagement of our new online audiences. What is the most positive aspect this crisis has brought? We’ve always prioritised working efficiently and innovatively but what this pandemic is allowing us to do is test ideas, trial online engagement options, and offer different ways of working to our staff and volunteer teams. We’re finding working from home, virtual meetings, and online engagement, although not without its challenges, can work for us.
Hopefully, what this means for the wider sector, is more inclusive museum and galleries. We are all providing online engagement in one way or another, and thanks to the guidance of organisations such as the Disability Collaborative Network, by default are captioning and providing alternative text to video and images.
Working from home and virtual meetings are the norm, which can offer wider and more accessible employment and governance opportunities. We are successfully providing online learning and conference events, making these experiences more accessible and with a reduced impact on the environment.
I hope that as a sector we retain these lessons we’re learning and also give ourselves sufficient time to reflect on them, and build them into the new normal.

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