Yesterday Hive uploaded a 5 part feature about the work of, John Lawson, a museum volunteer for over 10 years (please listen here). Listening to it should cause every museum professional and trustee to pause for thought and consider where the deficits lie in the current crises facing museums. It’s a celebration of John’s practice, yet also marks the loss of many opportunities when by investing some faith and heart, something amazing and unprecedented could have flourished in the particular museums he worked alongside.
When our nearest museum neighbour (Tyne Museums) has just had a 44% cut announcement it might sound deviant to say so, yet it seems to me that the chasm museums are about to fall into isn’t mainly caused by financial hardship, but by the fact that we haven’t put our hearts and souls into understanding ‘value’, and have largely pursued a ‘consequence-less’ way of structuring and developing our conversation with the public we serve. Funders, trustees and staff make decisions about what museums do and how we work. Our public is on the receiving end of organisational decision-making, not the driving end, unlike typical consumers. The ‘done to’. There is little or no upward learning, in that the consequences of bad decisionmaking do not get feed back into the organisation. The sector overall struggles to frame transparent accountability standards (e.g. see Tom Sutcliffe on visitor numbers) I’ve experienced enough inside and out of nationals in the regions, regional & small museums, to know that these institutional mis-investments are typical, rather than anomalous. We’ve seen decade or more of bloated institutional work that focuses more on museums, brand and ‘the sector’ than our public: so while investing in and developing ‘professional’ museum staff we’ve fostered a conceit about different kinds of expertise and ways of knowing, maintaining not-enough connection to local and family historians for example; while focusing fiercely on engaging new audiences, we haven’t restructured organisational models or boards to reflect local stakeholders and partners . . . so our governance and decision making is always a few steps away, at best, from understanding what does heritage mean to those outside our doors and why does it matter? Hive Radio is here to create a space for different voices to talk about heritage, culture and identity, and to begin conversations about models of business that will enable those voices to drive our work in museums. For the past four years I’ve been working to understand models of member controlled business (see for example Edgar Parnell’s http://www.m-centerprise.org/), and we’re now beginning to talk about this as a way of work that could change Bede’s World and create a resilent and vibrant museum. One member of staff shares her learning: A different model for museums?