News

Response & Responsibility: Museums, Twitter & Trump

This post is an ironically slow response to a session at the 2016 Museums Association conference, entitled ‘Rapid Response’. I wasn’t at the conference, although I followed along through social media and the live streams where I could. The reason I’m responding to some of the ideas in the session now is that I attended a Museums Association South East members meeting this week, and conference recaps formed part of the discussion. I’m not the only one revisiting this particular session either, as Tonya Nelson in January’s Museums Journal also revisits its themes in her column ‘We need to respond to the world around us’. Both these discussions and Nelson’s piece reflect on the idea that museums could operate more like newsrooms, reacting rapidly to current events, but also offering thoughtful and well researched analysis of subjects in the way that long-form journalism has traditionally done, but that in the age of 24 hour online news is becoming less common.

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What’s your specialism?

So Neil MacGregor is concerned about the ‘erosion of curatorial strength’ in regional museums. As funding cuts bite and staff numbers in smaller museums decrease, there is an inevitable corresponding decrease in the number of traditionally specialist curatorial staff. MacGregor, speaking to a select committee as part of the Countries of Culture Inquiry, highlights the knock-on effect this has for the work of local museums, and how national museums can help. There is the suggestion in MacGregor’s answers to the committee that small museums will be unable to take full advantage of opportunities such as loans from the BM because of a lack a curatorial knowledge about which objects to make use of, and a lack of knowledge about objects in the museum’s own collections. While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, it is more likely the lack of time available for research, as opposed to a lack of skill or pre-existing knowledge which makes a difference. As MacGregor goes on to acknowledge this comes back down to lack of funding, demands on staff time and therefore a lack of opportunities for small museums to do the work they would like to be doing:

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Museums and the Creative Industries

At the end of June DCMS published a report Creative Industries: Focus on Employment which, as you can guess from the title, looks at employment in the creative industries in the UK. One of the sectors included in the analysis is ‘Museums, galleries and libraries’ and the report has been picked up by the Museums Association in two news stories (here and here) which both focus on the depressing decline in numbers of BAME employees in museums. While this is obviously a very real concern, especially with the MA making workforce diversity a key theme of this year’s conference, I wanted to consider some of the other implications of the report.

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Protection from the forces of chaos

Winged Lion final
Colossal statue of a winged lion from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II. Illustration: Acid-free

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