MA publishes Empowering Collections report

Yosola Olorunshola, 04.04.19
A strategy for the future of collections 
The Museums Association has launched Empowering Collections, a wide-ranging report identifying 11 recommendations for the future of collections.   

Based on research from the Collections 2030 project, the report aims to equip museums to harness their collections for a social impact – making them more empowering, dynamic and relevant to communities and potential audiences.   

An ambitious consultation process gathered responses from over 1,000 people across the museum sector, academia, funding bodies and community groups to shape the report. The result is a comprehensive publication that is intended to serve as a long-term, strategic guide for working with collections over the next decade.  

“Collections are at the heart of our museums – and we want funders and policymakers to use these recommendations to make them fit for the next decade,” says Alistair Brown, the policy officer at the Museums Association.
The report also highlights case studies from around the UK to showcase the work that is already happening to transform collections, including: 

• Rehousing the collection of the Science Museum Group, involving an extensive digitisation project.  

• Rationalising the collection at Bridport Museum in collaboration with the local community, supported by the MA’s Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.   

• Exploring decolonial futures through an AHRC-funded project, connecting museums in south-east England with counterparts in the countries or regions where colonial items originated.  

• Curating a major contemporary art exhibition at Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales) in partnership with the Wallich, a Welsh homelessness charity. 

At a time of often contentious debate on the future of collections, the report is designed to equip the whole workforce to uncover the stories contained in collections and release their social potential.  

The publication was launched on 29 March 2019 at the MA Members Meeting in Wales (Cardiff Story Museum) with further launch events taking place at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh (3 April 2019) and The Grant Museum of Zoology, London (8 April 2019).  

MA members are invited to the London launch on Monday 8 April 2019, 1800 – 2000 at The Grant Museum of Zoology.  Please RSVP here to book your free place.

Links and downloads 


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04.04.2019, 18:17
Thank you for this report! It is wonderful to see a focus on increasing the impact of collections instead of implying that larger collections equals greater relevance. The needs of the communities we serve shift over time, so why should museums care equally for artifacts that no longer meet the needs of our audiences? In our concern to preserve everything because we don’t know what people in the future will find useful, we are diverting attention and care from objects that are meaningful to the people right in front of us. I'm working to change this conversation in the United States and I applaud your work!
04.04.2019, 13:50
While basically applauding the good intent, I have a couple of observations, especially in the light of the loss of curatorial staff at Birmingham.

While it is laudable to "want funders and policymakers to use these recommendations to make them fit for the next decade," we all know that in general there is one thing that drives change - money, or the lack of it, especially in independent museums or local authority museums, the latter being more or less unprotected. Museums are an easy target, and the MA's intentions, while very nice, don't cut the mustard when it comes to policymakers finding budget cuts. This also impacts independent museums as they have often been supported financially in the past through grants from local authorities.

So ... how do you 'empower' when there isn't anyone around to do the 'empowering'?? We've been empowering communities and individuals for decades, and doing it very successfully, thank you very much. But with no curatorial staff, conservation support or learning professionals in post, this new strategy means nothing. You're not helping because I know the people in power will quite simply ignore it. If it was backed up with some nice, toothy, bitey legislation ... well, then, now you're talking.

Birmingham's decision to rely on 'external curatorial support' for their collections in insane. Do they think curatorial expertise grows on trees? Do they think museum professionals sit around at home awaiting a call for their input? And if there are no curatorial roles available, in time there won't be any curatorial experts around to ask. Museum professionals take years to qualify and then work with collections, building up knowledge and often breathtakingly vast amounts of expertise on a subject which is usually available to anyone who asks. You can't do that without access to collections while having money to put food on the table.

Museums are closing at a shocking rate and jobs are few and far between, and this new strategy, while lovely and I approve of the intent, means diddly-squat in the real world. Without using its teeth, the MA can strategize all it wants, but in the long run I doubt it will make a huge impact.

Oh, and while I'm here having a good moan ... Accreditation. It's hard work and a pain, but I will defend it to my dying breath because it is the only validation we have as a standard. It means we do our job properly, and often it is the only thing that we have to justify to our bosses the very high standards we maintain in caring for our collections, and the help and empowerment we give to communities and audiences. It means what we do has value to everyone and proves we know what we're doing. It is seriously worth the hassle.

I hate being negative, but after over 20 years in museums and being at an age where I say what I want, I've turned into a cynic, and simply try to be windswept and interesting as I attempt to single-handedly manage a collection of 250,000 objects. The report will make a great prop for my laptop.