An awkward conversation


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Presentation to the Social History Curator

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An awkward conversation

  1. 1. An Awkward Conversation Nick Poole, CEO, Collections Trust
  2. 2. What follows is based on a conversation which took place on the 24 th December 2010. The views expressed are not mine, but they are as they were expressed to me.
  3. 3. I repeat, the views that follow are not mine.
  4. 4. I repeat, the views that follow are not mine. I think museums are fab.
  5. 5. And so it was that I found myself in the warm fug of the day before Christmas Eve visiting some friends of friends. There, in a group of 15 or so professional, intelligent, educated and culturally-engaged people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, the topic turned to museums and the current economic climate….
  6. 6. “ Don’t get me wrong, I like museums. But you’ve missed the boat. There just isn’t a place for museums in the modern world. You’re like typesetters, or vinyl manufacturers. Your time has come and gone and the world has moved on. It’s really just a question of how long it takes you to realise.”
  7. 7. “ What are you for ? I mean, what am I supposed to do in a museum? I go in, and I sort of look at stuff, but it doesn’t really mean anything to me. I don’t understand whose problem you’re solving. It’s not something I’d choose to do.”
  8. 8. “ Museums are like churches, aren’t they. I mean, you know you should go. And its very worthy. But you don’t go because, well, it’s just boring isn’t it?”
  9. 9. “ We went to a museum the other day and it was just awful . Everything was dingy and tatty. There was a picture of some rubbish dinosaurs painted onto peeling green paper, and a mannequin with a wonky moustache sort of slumped in the corner. It’s just not good enough.”
  10. 10. “ We went into the shop and it was hilarious. It was just tat – finger puppets and bouncy balls, and those awful books about steam engines and how to fix a spinning wheel. It was such a contrast to everything else on the High Street.”
  11. 11. (on hearing a description of Renaissance) “Well that’s just typical Blair/Brown bollocks, isn’t it. That’s why we are where we are. Spending money we don’t have. I don’t go to museums and I don’t bloody well want to subsidise them.”
  12. 12. “ Our local museum is always closed. We tried to go, but it only opens every second Tuesday or something ridiculous. I can’t go during the day – I’m at work. So when I’m coming home the museum is shut. I honestly can’t see the point.”
  13. 13. “ We’ve got a brilliant arts centre, and they’ve always got new stuff on. New shows, things to do at the weekend, workshops, classes. It’s a real hub of the town. But the museum and the library aren’t really part of that. They’re more like a part of the council. They’re sort of drab.”
  14. 14. “ There’s only about 5 things in there. All fireman’s helmets and gasmasks. They’ve got a store out of town. What’s in there? Why have they got all that stuff?.”
  15. 15. “ I didn’t know they had an accreditation for museums. I don’t think the one we went to today was Accredited. They should have shot it, not accredited it.” (it was an Accredited museum)
  16. 16. Ouch…
  17. 17. This is not the museum sector we know and love. The museums we know and love are vibrant, creative, inspiring, surprising, valuable and valued. But they are not valued by everyone. And we can all think of a museum like the one they have in their mind’s eye.
  18. 18. The main challenges seem to be: Relevance Quality Value
  19. 19. These views exist. They’re even common. So we can’t afford to ignore them if our mission is to collect and share culture, in the broadest sense. These people weren’t Tories, or aliens, or ravening anti-museum lobbyists. They were mums and dads and young professionals and people like you and me. So how do we meet them, head-on, with confidence, and change their minds?
  20. 20. I was recently told that there were 4 things worth doing with your life Fix the planet Fix society Fix the economy Fix people We know that museums, and Social History in particular, have something valuable to contribute to all of these. The majority of punters don’t. I believe that we can change the conversation. First of all, we have to believe that we need to. Secondly, we need to keep working, every day, to deliver inspirational experiences. Thirdly, we have to create a new narrative for ourselves about how we can help Britain recover and find its way forward.
  21. 21. Thankyou! Comments please at