Our Museum: Your Future?

As Director of ALACS it was my great pleasure to be invited to Chair the annual peer review conference of the Paul Hamlyn-funded “Our Museum” project. The conference took place in Bristol and ran very smoothly thanks to the organisational skills of the project Director Piotr Bienkowski and Gurdeep Thiara (the power behind the throne…).

The project aims to, over a three year period, change the organisational (and perhaps also philosophical) culture in 8 museums (large and small) from across the UK, with the aim of making them more responsive to, and inclusive of, their communities.

It is a bold project. Not an easy one to deliver but with huge implications for the future of all museums.

Who was it who said “If you love someone, set them free”. I think it was David Cameron. Or Sting. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that one of the key themes that emerged was one of “letting go”. Museums letting go of their instinctive desire to protect and collect. Letting go of their belief that they, and only they, know what is best for their communities.

It was a fascinating conference, greatly enhanced by my superb chairing and timekeeping skills (!) which were aided by the proflagate use of a WWII air raid warden’s rattle from Belfast (ah, how delegates thrilled at it’s harshly wooden ululations. Not!).

Is Our Museum the future of ALL museums?

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One thought on “Our Museum: Your Future?

  1. Thanks for a great post. I have really enjoyed seeing the Our Museum programme develop and learning some of the lessons from the challenges they have faced.

    My organisation, the Collections Trust, had its conference this week on the topic of ‘Putting Collections to Work’. It was really striking how much has changed already in the world of collections management, curatorship and conservation – ‘letting go’ was pretty much the underlying theme of the whole event, and there was a real sense that some of the traditionally more conservative elements of the industry are getting excited about their role in designing experiences and narratives around the museum visitor (whether real, virtual or wearing Glass…)

    This being the case, though, it is interesting to me to try and identify where the remaining points of inertia are. As the management and technical delivery of museum experiences becomes more user-focused, I still think we have issues around organisational culture, mission, leadership and governance which tend to mean that great, engaging work still sits at the periphery rather than the core.

    My great fear with Our Museum was that it would be a group of the already-converted doing more of the great stuff they would have done anyway. There has been a tiny element of that in some respects, but the greater share seems to be achieving real change.

    Here’s hoping that the radical practice of Our Museum is tomorrow’s new normal!

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