Working life | Nêst Thomas - Museums Association

Working life | Nêst Thomas

The Welsh Museums Federation president and Gwynedd Museums & Arts manager tells us about her goals
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Nêst Thomas became president of the Welsh Museums Federation earlier this year
Nêst Thomas became president of the Welsh Museums Federation earlier this year Photo by Phillip Sayer
What are your priorities as president of the Welsh Museums Federation?

One priority is to ensure that museums are ready for the challenges they face and that their staff and volunteers feel supported. Grants have been provided by the Welsh government and Art Fund to ensure museums could reopen safely, care for their collections, assist with income loss and continue to engage with communities. The federation’s own grant scheme is also crucial in supporting museums.

The Cultural Recovery Fund has been vital for museums and we need to ensure that there’s investment in museums during the next phase of this pandemic and further into the future. The federation itself also requires investment in its capacity, so it can continue to support the sector, especially with partnership work. One long-term aim is that there will be a new Culture and Creativity Strategy for Wales – and we need a fit-for-purpose museum sector to fully contribute towards this.

What other projects are you working on?

The federation has a vital role in gathering accurate data. Spotlight, which provides an up-to-date snapshot of the museum sector in Wales, will be available soon. The next piece of research will be on the impact of austerity. These will help us plan how to support museums’ needs. We are working on the Digital Discovery project in consultation with museums, to develop digital infrastructure, capacity and skills that will enable us to create a sustainable model for the future. Advocacy will continue as a priority, ensuring that we promote museums’ contribution to society. Culture was a crucial lifeline during the pandemic and museums have a role in shaping the future, through supporting wellbeing, the regeneration of the economy, enjoyment of life, education or creating a sense of identity. As a bilingual president, I also hope to raise the profile of the Welsh language.

How has Gwynedd Museums & Arts service changed during Covid-19?

We put more collections, educational resources and exhibitions online. We also organised Covid ReCollect to tell the story of Gwynedd during Covid-19 by asking the public for contributions, which can be seen online. Our museums have recently reopened and we have had the opportunity to work closer with other council departments. For example, we set up a bilingual online booking system. We were also aware that not everyone has easy access to technology and that there are other ways of reaching communities.

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Our learning officer sent out Easter activities packs and we worked with Gwynedd Community Arts, food banks, schools and community groups to create and deliver “pecynnau prysur” ( activity packs ) into families’ homes. Storiel turned into a mini-production factory for these for a period. Some of what we have developed during this pandemic will continue.

Activities packs ready for distribution at Storiel during lockdown
How will you engage with the new national curriculum in Wales?

We need to ensure that museums understand how they can support schools and highlight the rich resources they have, especially regarding “hunaniaeth”, the sense of place and the Welsh identity. It’s an opportunity to ensure that museums are at the core of learning and we will work with the Group for Education in Museums Cymru towards this aim.

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