Looking Beyond the Crossroads


Alex Bird, Sector Development Officer – Museum Development North West urges us to look beyond the crossroads and identify how Culture Now can help the sector navigate this changing landscape. 

It feels like the sector is at a crossroads for a number of reasons. The funding cuts over the last few years have been brutal and pushed many people to leave museums to pursue roles in different sectors causing the much publicised outcry about the loss of expertise. There also seems to be a changing of the guard with the appointment of Maria Balshaw as Director of Tate and Tristram Hunt at the V&A being the most talked about of the last few years.

The loss of expertise within the sector is worrying many people as the concept of the “lifer” is something that many people don’t necessarily have the opportunity to be in this day. With an increasing amount of fixed-term and zero-hours contracts the loss of expertise is inevitable but what can we do to retain people within museums?

CPD is the key to a successful workforce and workforce retention. A well-trained and well-networked workforce more than likely equals innovative practice, job satisfaction and above all happiness.

Arts Council England have recognised the changing landscape and have called for more multi-skilled people in their Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK museums workforce saying museum work is increasingly becoming multi- skilled with more emphasis on business skills allied to individual specialisms. Although not mentioned explicitly in the museum literature, this perspective resembles the ‘T’-shape model of skills; a popular concept used in other sectors.”

The loss of expert “lifers” means that the sector is changing and it has to replace the out-going skills with other skills now needed more than ever. With the reduction of specialist curatorial roles people are having to enter the sector via different routes and with different skills; skills such as project management, strategic planning, partnership brokering and networking are now a necessity to ensure the sector is buoyant, innovative and resilient. Yes the collections skills and expertise are still needed. It will always be needed within the sector but the “T-shaped” individuals mentioned above are now a crucial element of the workforce.

Not all people have the required skills though and CPD opportunities now go beyond the more traditional museum skills and support the development of those now required, yet I’ve spoken to many people who have participated in a vast number of CPD initiatives and haven’t been able to practice their new found skills in the workplace. We recognise that there are barriers facing people implementing new skills and we’re keen to hear from the network so that we can support the sector to change how its workforce is developed and how the skills are embedded in the workplace.

What barriers are you facing and how have you tackled them? How should the sector change in order to retain its workforce? What aspect of museum CPD needs to be challenged?

This is what Culture Now is about. It’s about sharing ideas, networking and giving a voice to those not leading organisations by questioning established thinking and influencing change. All feedback will be confidential but will be used as evidence to encourage change.

To get in touch please visit the contact page on the website and share your thoughts.

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