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Hallmarks of a Prosperous Museum – AIM Conference 2015 Report

Roz Bonnet, 23.06.2015

This year’s AIM Conference at the ss Great Britain in Bristol was its biggest ever, attracting over 250 people. The theme of the conference was prospering museums and saw the launch of AIM’s new framework 8 Hallmarks of a Prosperous Museum which has been developed with funding from Arts Council England.

It was a packed programme of talks, breakout sessions and case studies from a wide range of museums, and provided a chance to explore the ss Great Britain herself and, for those brave enough, to even climb the ship’s rigging.

Conference subjects ranged from leadership and governance to retail and catering, to the entrepreneurial spirit and innovations in visitor experience.

The first day kicked off with a keynote speech from Sam Mullins, Director of the London Transport Museum, reflecting on the key characteristics of a healthy and adaptive museum (image below). This was followed by an energetic case study from Alison Bevan, Director of the RWA, on the importance of purpose, the triple bottom line (people, environment, finance) and happiness in ensuring a successful museum.

AIM

Talks from the Chair and Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre and Judy Niner, Director of Development Partners, focused on the importance of strong, supportive leadership and sense of purpose enabling organisations to thrive as well as the pivotal role Trustees should play in advocacy and fundraising.

We also heard from three museums about their approach to cuts in funding. The key themes that emerged were the importance of being brave in exploring new directions, community involvement and openness with staff and involving them in the decision making process.

Day two began with talks from Bernard Donoghue, ALVA Chief Exec and Matthew Tanner, CEO of ss Great Britain exploring what makes a great day out – authenticity, a sense of place, telling people’s stories, a great workforce, lots of fun and clean toilets. We also learnt that a genuine thank you and goodbye can drive up repeat visits by up to 22%!

A Question Time style debate featured Judy Niner, John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Museum Arts Council England, Diane Lees, Director of Imperial War Museum and Richard Evans, Director of Beamish Museum. The debate covered charging, favourite small museums, what excellence means – clarity of purpose, how you engage and cleanliness. One question highlighted a feeling amongst the panel that Trustees are increasingly looking for the wrong kind of leaders with too much focus on commerciality and too little on inspiration.

One of the highlights was a session exploring co-production. David Jubb, Artistic Director at Battersea Arts Centre, spoke about their pioneering ‘scratch’ process whereby they encourage people to use the space to test and develop new ideas with the public. Hannah Fox from Derby Silk Mill explained their community project, Re:Make the Museum, where the public were invited to turn curator, helping to design and build new displays. Finally, Sara Brown from Ely Museum spoke about the benefits and challenges for a small museum working with local communities and of creating a partnership of equals. The emphatic conclusion from the session was that when it comes to co-production museums should be ready to relinquish control, feel the fear and it do anyway.

The final case studies on day two focused on entrepreneurialism and maximising visitor spend focusing on the importance of a professional approach, getting the right product (authenticity again) and excellent visitor service in maximising spend. People want to spend money so give them the opportunity was the message from Kevin Moore, Director of the National Football Museum.

Overall there was a great sense of positivity at the conference which made for an inspiring, thought provoking and energising few days. For those unable to attend there is plenty of discussion, debate and photos on Twitter, just search #2015AIM.

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