Q&A | ‘Difficult as such a radical reset can be, it also brings new opportunities’ - Museums Association

Q&A | ‘Difficult as such a radical reset can be, it also brings new opportunities’

We speak to Gillian Findlay, the Museums Association's new president
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Simon Stephens
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The Museums Association (MA) today welcomes new president Gillian Findlay.

Gillian, who first became an MA trustee in 2017, now follows Maggie Appleton in leading our board.

Gillian's career in museums began as a volunteer at Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood, and she has since had roles at Tyne and Wear Museums, Museums Galleries Scotland, and Culture Perth and Kinross, among others. She currently heads Museums & Galleries Edinburgh as the service's acting cultural venues manager (Museums & Galleries).

We spoke to Gillian about the changes of the past year and her hopes for the future of the sector.

How do you think the sector has coped with the pandemic?

There’s no doubt the past year has brought unprecedented challenges for the sector, and stress and hardship for its workforce – as it has for wider society, our own neighbourhoods and families.

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What’s also not in doubt is that while doors may have been closed, many museums have been busier than ever. Their creative and innovative responses to lockdown, and compassionate, collaborative approach to community support (as we saw in the 2020 Museums Change Lives nominations) have demonstrated just how embedded museums are in people’s lives and the real, positive impact they can make.

What do you think the key challenges are for the sector going forward?

The effects of the pandemic are ongoing, of course, with many museums unable to reopen quickly or fully, even as lockdown restrictions start to ease across the UK. Given the sector was dealing with the effects of chronic underfunding long before Covid, unfortunately I think we can expect to continue to hear about museums cutting services, being in danger of not reopening at all, and more staff facing redundancies for some time yet.

Recovery will be bumpy and slow, requiring not just a reconsideration of how we work and what we do, but who we do it with. Difficult as such a radical reset can be, it also brings new opportunities. I am confident that as a sector we will continue to innovate and adjust to our changing circumstances in 2021 with as much determination as we did in 2020.

What are the priorities for the MA?

First and foremost, as ever, MA staff, reps and trustees are here to support and advocate for members. During the difficult days ahead we will continue to champion the sector, speaking up boldly and clearly for its people and its place in community and national life, and we will continue providing the guidance, events and services that members tell us they value and need.

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Sometimes these differ from region to region, and nation to nation, and the MA is committed to understanding and responding to the unique context in which museums operate, wherever they are in the UK.

What issues are important to you as MA president?

Happily, the issues important to me personally are also priorities for the MA and my own museum service, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh.

Paramount at the moment, not surprisingly, is wellbeing; and understanding what – as a sector, as organisations, as staff and volunteers, and as community – is needed for a return to health and to build resilience in the face of uncertain times ahead.

The fight for a fairer, more equitable society and representative sector remains key to the MA and to me. I am a huge supporter of Museums Change Lives, and look forward to championing the inclusive and impactful vision it represents.

And finally, how we embed sustainable practice and support our communities to engage urgently in discourse and action to address the climate emergency couldn’t be more pressing.

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What are you most looking forward to as MA president?

Where do I start?! Getting to know more of the people who make UK museums the inspiring, important, life-changing places we know they can be must be at the top of my list.

I’m looking forward to attending members’ meetings and to taking part in conference, and to actively supporting the MA’s many projects and priorities over the next few years. After being an MA member for more than 20 years, it is an absolute honour to now become president, and I can’t wait to get started.

Gillian's term as president began on 1 April 2021

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