I realise I haven’t updated my website in a bit but it’s not lack of thoughts to share (more of a lack of time from travelling). This issue has been brewing for awhile as it’s an international issue that not many seem to speak about. The current ‘hot topic’ is inclusion which I 100% support but only if it’s done with respect and not like the Young People in museum topic (when funding left, the young people were left with nothing to see for their work). However, this topic is even better IMO as without good people, nothing we do it going to matter!
As a cultural sector we leave 2016 with even more uncertainty than when it started. Lots of events have happened this year that we had no control of, decisions made we might not agree with and the impact of some of those decisions still relatively unknown. 2017 will give us some answers, but will it give us any more security? Doubtful.
With that in mind as a sector what can we do for the year ahead? Do we just brace ourselves for impact or do we steer ourselves to where we might be in a better position to survive?
One thing is for sure, we are getting used to being battered. Our sector has taken some of the biggest hits of austerity compared to any other sector of equal size. Each year we deal with less funding, less resources and less staff and I’m pretty sure 2017 won’t be any different.
The bigger question for 2017 is what have we learnt?
If we are now so bruised from a tidal wave of cuts, what have we done to prevent absolute catastrophe, (most of you reading this are survivors, still working in the sector and many of you in museums that have not closed) what have we learnt from each other to prevent the next wave hitting us even harder? Hmmmmm
Our decision makers hold the key but are they getting it right? And when I say decision makers forget for the moment about Governments and ministers, when times are hard we are an easy hit, that will never change, but we still do get money albeit a lot less than what we are worth. So are our leaders that control this money being savvy with the cash? Are we making the most of what we receive or we earn? Do we turn it into increased footfall or increased revenue? The question is easy, the answer is not.
Our sector has always had a dual personality, one that remains relatively balanced. On one hand we lean towards academia, informing the masses and educating them in the process. Whilst on the other hand we are a tourist attraction; a place to visit whilst on holiday or a place to drop in for a look around and a cup of coffee. Which one matters most? There are arguments on both sides. Which one brings in most additional revenue? On the whole the answer to that question is much easier, and our leaders know that too. So whilst we see the academia of some museums decline (and as I said before, shift to emotive) that seems fair, what we should be seeing in order to survive is an even bigger increase in emphasis to café’s and gifts. Should we not?
Maybe we should. Try it, next time you have the ear of a financial decision maker, don’t talk about the next exhibition talk about an idea to get more people to purchase from the gift shop. But then why shouldn’t they, it’s their responsibility to do that, they are doing this just to survive. The problem is survival mode, all the time, is not sustainable.
What we need to do is work together even more. Look at what we all do to ‘survive’ and instead of using these ideas to help ‘us survive even better’ look at these strategies and frameworks, share your own, and develop something that isn’t survival its sustainability. Positioning yourself so that even if the coffee runs dry and the gifts go out of fashion (look at your own gift shop, and ask yourself would you shop there?) then you can weather the storm because of the practices you have in place.
And why should we do this? Because we are losing amazingly talented people from our sector who once gone will probably never return. These aren’t people after an easy life, riding on the back of funding streams to allow them to do as little as possible (though be honest we’ve all known at least one). No- these are talented, creative professionals who bring hundreds of thousands of pounds to our sector and recognised all over the world, but are leaving because they can’t battle any more. They can’t battle the changing goal posts, the easy hit of cutting jobs, ‘oh we are losing 15% of our funding, ok let’s cut 6 posts”, and they can’t battle the lack of capital given over to what makes their place of employment special. They want stability and they want appreciation, through backing, for their skills. If we are going to grow and create that sustainable model it’s these people that we need.
I asked these question a week or so on Facebook, are we putting emotion over academia, do we now just survive? Here are a few of the comments I received. Please share your thoughts either here. email or social media. More voices need to be heard!
“I agree it’s exhausting -esp if the resources are not there to back anything up. I have occasionally found having £ restrictions an interesting one, but invariably you just end up putting in more elbow grease”
There’s a HUGE conversation to be had here. I also grapple with these issues every day in my work and in trying to figure out how to best communicate this situation to leaders. We deploy some data among cultural executives to figure out how this “blind spot” is happening. A sad reality that may be fueling it- in part – is that executive leaders do not primarily look to professional staff or conferences as go-to sources for decision-making. Moreover, professional staff have much less influence on decision making and perceived trust associated with them than other sources of information. I think that – to change this situation – instead of “screaming louder” that engagement matters (Seriously. It matters), we need to get to the heart of the matter and alter executive culture within the industry. That’s a much bigger beast! There are *so many* interesting topics that feed into this (tradition, board pressure, leadership psychology, personal brands, generational perspectives) that make this topic ripe for some serious discussion and thought-fuel. In sum, many of the voices most critical for long-term solvency within an organization are not the ones being heard – and that’s a problem.
C M D
The difficulty is having the conversation with the right people who tend to bring a bag of excuses to the table whenever they are approached. It’s not just one country – it’s almost epidemic. The point ‘traditional’ boards of trustees, directors, etc don’t seem to grasp is the role of culture/libraries has to shift to keep with the behaviour shift technology has brought on. What worked pre-2007 (iPhone time) does not work now. Not even for the older generation who we still claim aren’t tech savy but I’m hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t have an older person on Facebook or knows how to imessage. The generalization and tick boxes are even outdated these days. Also, reading the data you shared, it scares me a bit that newspaper is one of the top ones when we’re dealing with so much fake news. And that peer-to-peer is another key one but only if they are on the same level. What can be learned from that?!
As money becomes even tighter, the focus tends to shift to direct income sources and that becomes really negative. So they stop saying ‘look at our values and our impact’ and just become like any commodity product or bums on seats visitor attraction, and that has untold consequences for the sector. – It also seems to make organisations more protective, whereas if nothing else, if organisations won’t let their own digital people be creative then they should let others make things with the content that they have in their collections – artists, developers, creatives. We need people to be first and foremost thinking ‘culture is great’ rather than just concentrating on whether a particular experience is good, or a certain object is interesting
You are spot on with the term: Survival mode. Of course, limitations stimulate creative approaches, not in itself a bad thing. But I think, sadly, that creative practioners, always susceptible to being taken advantage of (i.e. working for nothing) are doing that more and more, creating a vicious circle. The creative industries (and the wealth potential and indeed the achievements of wealth) must be properly recognised. And *possibly* the concept of standard terms investigated. So budgeting is easier and everything is fairer. Not sure if this applies to museums…
Museums don’t value digital anything and don’t want to pay people to do digital work. Full stop. I’ve just had meetings at an institution that is pretty much a clean slate, no IT/digital staff to speak of and they think they can hire one person to over. I’m not sure how much longer I can stick it out in this sector, months, not years