At the beginning of October, Etta, Rachel and I attended the Museum Association annual conference in Cardiff. Among many of the key themes was one word that I’m sure you’ve all heard much of lately: Resilience. The October issue of Museums Journal contained an interesting conversation between Emmie Kell of Cornwall Museums’ Partnership and Nêst Thomas of Gwynedd County Council discussing this term. Kell points out that one definition is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, while in Welsh, it translates into ystwythder – flexible.
From just a few months at MAG, I can confirm that flexibility is something that we have in spades! I’ve begun to understand the changes in physical and management structures, collections policy and approaches that Worcester Museum and Art Gallery has seen since the 1830s. I’ve also been present while big changes have been taking place recently.
After the library was moved to The Hive in 2012, the city council, who own the building and are the main funders for the museum, kindly allowed us to use the temporarily empty space on the ground floor for exhibitions and activities. This arrangement was never permanent and, at the decision of the city councillors, these rooms, along with areas of the basement, are now being returned to the council and converted into offices. It seems to me that the museum will certainly miss the extra space and, like any building work, it will cause some disruption. But in the spirit of “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, the deadline to vacate the space has been treated as a motivation to reassess, re-organize and streamline. While the reduction in square meters is spurring creative thought about how our gallery spaces and stores can be best utilized.
It has been great to see how incredibly positive the MAG team have been in this time of change: highlighting that it will strengthen our relationship with the council, provide customers for our café and shop, as well as offering an in-house audience for lunch-time talks and weekday events – all of which sounds very appealing!
It is likely that we will all be seeing many more service merges and partnerships in the museums sector and public service more generally. Worcester has been very forward thinking in this respect: The Hive, for example, seamlessly combines a university and council library, council customer services and an archives and archaeology service, not to mention a café. Having seen these successes, I’m very much looking forward to getting to know our new neighbours.