When I started this blog almost a year ago, it was because I wanted to push myself. I was working in a national museum in a junior role where I learnt a lot about the practicalities of collections management, but didn’t feel stretched, and didn’t feel like I was flexing all the muscles I developed during my Museum Studies MA. I was facing a lot of challenges and frustrations when it came to pursuing the next stage of my career, and was keenly aware of the parallel challenges and frustrations facing the museum sector. I had a lot of ideas and didn’t feel like I had an outlet for them, so I started Acid Free.
A lot has changed for me since then. I have recently succeeded in getting a job as the curator of a small local authority museum. Having got to where I want to be, I am facing a new and exciting set of challenges, and have been channeling all my energy into my new role. This is how it should be, one might think. While I haven’t been blogging, or tweeting as much, I have kept my eye on the conferences, forums, initiatives, blogs, and tweets of those in the sector, and what has struck me is the sheer amount of energy that museum professionals have. We work in a demanding sector which is under-funded and frequently under-staffed. Most work for far less than they might earn in an equivalent role in another field; many are working for less than the living wage, or not being paid at all. Yet on top of this so many people are dedicated, in addition to their day jobs of keeping museums open and engaging, to pushing forward new agendas and creating real and meaningful improvements in the sector.
While in many ways museums have been slow to change with the times, there are forward-thinking passionate people fighting to drag them into the 21st century and beyond. This is particularly true because there are people entering the sector who love museums but recognise the current problems with them, and are prepared to work to fix them. An interesting editorial in February’s Museums Journal used the recent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman to make the point about their working class backgrounds and their extraordinary contributions to culture. Referring to a radio interview with screenwriter and novelist Frank Cotrell-Boyce on the matter, Simon Stephens writes: ‘Cottrell-Boyce went on to say that while innovation can come from anywhere, it often comes from the margins, from outsiders. If we close the doors to these margins, we are in danger of diminishing our entire culture.’
Museum workers who may have come from these ‘margins’ will probably have already had to struggle to enter the sector (lets face it, it’s a struggle for anyone), and to think outside the box and innovate to move forward in their careers. Why would such determined people stop struggling and innovating when they reach a certain point in those careers?
This energy, this will to struggle on and keep going despite the odds stacked against those who work in museums, gives me hope for the sector. There is always more work to be done to get museums reaching their full potential to engage, entertain and serve their communities, but I’m convinced there are people who have the will, and will continue to push to get that work done.