Q&A with Gina Koutsika

Rebecca Atkinson, 08.08.2014
On maintaining momentum for the centenary and institutional change
As the head of national and international programmes and projects at Imperial War Museums (IWM), Gina Koutsika’s role is to manage the first world war centenary across five branches and digital platforms and to coordinate the First World War Centenary Cultural Partnership, which lasts until 2018-19.

She and her team also manage IWM’s national and international remit, including cross-branch learning and digital learning, partnerships and projects such as War Story, Build the Truce, the Film Festival, Changing Times and Veterans in Prison.

Koutsika was previously the head of interpretation at Tate, and has also worked for the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum in London, and the Hellenic Children's Museum in Athens, Greece. She has just been awarded her FMA by the Museums Association.

Now the IWM London has reopened following its redevelopment, what areas of work will you focus on?

In the coming months  I will be working with colleagues across IWM and partners to implement our relatively new learning and engagement strategy, especially in the areas of digital learning and learning research.

Longer term, we are refreshing and improving the American Air Museum in IWM Duxford, developing future plans for IWM North, and of course planning our ongoing offer and commemorating the second world war. Did I hear you asking about having a rest? Not possible!

How do you think momentum and interest around the first world war centenary can be maintained over the next four years?

It has been said many times so far, and it will be said many more, that the first world war shaped the world we live in today. There are so many facets to explore and so many links to make, from familiar to unexpected areas and from obvious debates to new thoughts. 

The centenary, because it spans over five years, is an exceptional opportunity to experiment with imaginative programming, take risks, form sustainable partnerships, create regional capacity, learn from mistakes and still have time to make amends.
It is a unique chance for our teams to engage with wide and different audiences. I have confidence in us, our organisations and our publics.

The First World War Centenary Partnership will continue to facilitate partnership and coordinated working and to encourage us to engage with our audiences, so we can prevent centenary overload.

You’ve recently been awarded your FMA – how did you find the process and what impact has it had on your professional development?

I love being and working in museums (and, in my case, having worked with science, natural history, art and history collections) because they are conduits of thoughts, ideas and possibilities.

The FMA process facilitated the contemplation of my journey for the last five years and helped me decide what really matters to me, my organisations and our sectors.

Choosing my referees also took thinking and working for and with Diane Lees, IWM’s director general, was instrumental. Her faith in me gave me the confidence to apply and pass my FMA. Now, being an FMA, I feel the additional responsibility towards my colleagues and museums in general.

Institutional change is a central part of your work at IWM, but what does this mean in practice and how would you like to see the sector evolve in this area?

I believe in continuous learning and learning leads to change. My department works across branches and teams and we practice and model collaboration, transparency, sharing, ownership of decisions and mistakes, reflective thinking and working for a common vision. 

We, our institutions and our sectors (I do not think we are just one sector) need to constantly reinvent ourselves and respond to external and internal drives. We need to remain relevant to our audiences, our communities, our regions and nations as well as the international landscape without losing touch of our essence and our core values.