David Gaimster is leaving the Hunterian next month to take up a new role in New Zealand

Q&A with David Gaimster

Simon Stephens, 07.02.2017
The Hunterian's outgoing director on swapping Scotland for New Zealand
David Gaimster, the director of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow, leaves Scotland next month to become the director of the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand.

Gaimster joined the Hunterian in 2010 from the Society of Antiquaries of London, where he was the general secretary and chief executive. He has also worked for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum, London.

What did you most enjoy about being the director at the Hunterian?

The higher education setting of museums and collections has been invigorating for me. It had always been my ambition to better explore the dynamics between collections and research, teaching and learning.

It has been exciting to see how our collections can be mobilised in new and innovative ways through the creation last year of the Hunterian Collections Study Centre at Kelvin Hall, the most extensive object laboratory in the higher education world. In addition to our capital development, I will look back with pride on our extraordinary growth in audiences, both public and academic.

We have seen a 40% rise in footfall to our galleries and exhibitions in the past four years and the creation of one of the biggest student engagement and curatorial training programmes in our sector.

What was the best thing about working in Glasgow?

With its civic, university and national collections, Glasgow has one of the richest museum ecologies of any major city in the world. What distinguishes Glasgow is its commitment to strategic partnership and collaboration.

Where else would university, civic and national collections come together to create a joint collections access and educational facility, with joint public programmes and a digital portal for cross-searching Glasgow’s multiple cultural assets?

We have now laid the foundations for further capital investments at Kelvin Hall, where partner institutions will be developing new gallery spaces in the next few years with shared public amenity space. Glasgow has been an exhilarating experience over the past few years and I envy the person who comes after me in this role.

What will be the main challenges for UK university museums in the future?

Although established as academic infrastructure, university museums now service a wide range of public and educational audiences. Over the past few decades university museums have focused on enhancing their public offer around their world-class collections.

Latterly, however, it could be argued this shift in emphasis has jeopardised their position as core business to their host institution. Curatorial roles have become “professional” and less academically engaged. This trend creates risk, as universities are losing their incentive to invest in these assets. There is a danger they are “nice to have” rather than core to the purpose of a university.

The university impact agenda, and the policy need for universities to engage with civic society create a major opportunity for university museums to play a more dynamic role in mediating higher education research for the wider community, investing in collection-based research and teaching, and in providing the “go-to” solution for training the next generation of museum curators.

We are really excited about our new lecturer/curator positions in Glasgow, which are intended to mobilise our collections for research and teaching and share “ownership” of the collections with the academic community.
 
Can you tell us about your new role in New Zealand?

The Auckland War Memorial Museum is one of the foremost museums in the Pacific, providing an extraordinary insight into the lives of generations of peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand and their natural environment.

It was established in 1852 as New Zealand’s first museum and rehoused in the 1920s in a spectacular neo-classical building dedicated to the fallen of world war one. The museum is flourishing, and my job is to oversee the next stage of its ambitious Future Museum masterplan, which has been co-developed with the city’s Maori and Pacific communities.

I very much hope my experience in Glasgow will help me to build new institutional and community partnerships in Auckland and to forge further innovation in engaging audiences on site, off site and online. It would be difficult to find another institution so dedicated to connecting people and memory with collections.

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