On a recent trip to Bath I was interested to see a small exhibit in the ceramics display in the Victoria Art Gallery: a case full of broken objects. The case comes at the end of the small gallery full of delftware, radiant lustreware, packs of Staffordshire dogs and more modern studio ceramics. It showcases items from the collection which are in a state of disrepair and would not normally be on display. As well as making an effective case for donations, I thought this simple display was a wonderful way of making visible the work that needs to go on behind the scenes to care for and preserve the city’s collections.
When considering the impact of museum funding cuts, I thought I knew what the threats might be: closures, or part-closures, shorter opening hours, staff redundancies, selling off collections, cutting back on all but the core activities. I didn’t think that something I’ve come to take for granted would be under threat: free entry.
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.
I have written in previous posts about an emerging trend for museums to put on self-questioning displays which examine what museums and collections mean in society. I was excited by the prospect of the V&A’s All of This Belongs to You, which ‘examines the role of public institutions in contemporary life and what it means to be responsible for a national collection.’ The exhibition does this through a series of installations and interventions throughout the museum. While this was an interesting way to see more of the museum, I can’t help wishing that it was presented as more of a traditional exhibition, which might have made it more visible and accessible. The concept of the show is to engage visitors with the collection and museum as belonging to the nation, at a time when museums are under threat. I wish some museum would make this point more bluntly and loudly for all to hear.
On Friday 5th June I attended a free conference at the British Museum called ‘What does data have to do with me?’ As someone who deals with data about collections daily in my work, and has a reasonable grasp of the importance of visitor data from my previous roles and Museum Studies course, I still consider myself something of a novice in this field. To see the potential of what data, in the right hands, can do was a real eye-opener. The many speakers, from diverse organisations such as the BBC, the Guardian, the Audience Agency, Nesta and the Arts Council, spoke on different subjects and projects, but some common themes emerged again and again: