GEM conference - day 2

How fast can I type in the half-hour between the last conference session and dinner?! With any luck I might manage to summarise this morning's two inspirational keynotes.


We were lucky to have Carole Souter from the Heritage Lottery Fund as our first keynote, sharing her thoughts on the outcome of HLF’s recent consultation and on the likely direction of the new strategic plan that begins in 2013. She had some impressive statistics – in its 16-year history HLF has been part of a transformation in learning and engagement with heritage and invested £4.7bn in over 32,000 projects ranging from £3000 to over £20m. £1.4bn has gone into museums and galleries alone.


The good news is that HLF will have more money than was anticipated from 2013 onward. This is partly because it will take 20% of the ‘good causes’ money rather than 16.6%, but also because that pot is itself bigger because last year was Camelot's best ever for ticket sales - I wonder why!  The upshot is that HLF's budget is £300m next year, nearly back to the level it was at a few years ago. The less encouraging news is that the process is becoming much more competitive. HLF are now 3-4 times oversubscribed which is an unprecedented situation and means that applications will have to be watertight to stand a chance of success. It means there are some excellent projects that won’t be successful in gaining HLF investment. Carole’s advice was to bear in mind the two main decision-making questions that the HLF board uses – why HLF, and why now? Why is HLF the right funder for your project, and why is this the right moment for your project? They need the positive answers to that second question and not just the negative ones –  it’s not just about saving your building from falling down, but about why your audiences need you, and what they are asking you to do. Carole has a positive message about HLF's ability and willingness to support good ideas and innovation. However it's also true that HLF's £300m doesn't go anywhere near plugging the £500 - £700m funding gap left by the Comprehensive Spending Review, and that HLF funding is still about additionality and not about funding core work.


Our next keynote was from Tony Butler, CEO of the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket. His presentation was about re-imagining the purpose of the museum, turning standard instrumentalist ideas about museums' contribution to political outcomes and economic development on their head and focusing instead on their stewardship role and potential to be "connectors in civil society". MEAL is an active social enterprise with progressive values, focusing on social justice and being the centre of local life, and Tony shared some of the principles and values behind that with innumerable references to alternative economic thinking and philosophy. He challenged us to find new ways of measuring and valuing what we do - for MEAL success isn't measured by the length of queues lining up for blockbusters but by how well it contributes to the strength of social networks, promoting shared interests and a sense of identity and locality. Tony introduced the work of the Happy Museum project, an initiative supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation's Breakthrough fund and based on Edgar Cahn's theories about civil society as the core economy.  The project challenges museums to reinvent themselves - how does participation work throughout your organisation? Are you a pyramid, with the trustees at the top and your audiences and participants at the bottom, or a circular network with participation at all levels through governance, leadership and collaboration? What role do museums play in their communities? Can they be campaigners, activists, places for encounters? How do we address our ingrained behaviours to become more open?


If I've been brief in that summary it's because I really can't do Tony's presentation justice in the time I've got but I do recommend you read his blog and look at the Happy Museum project for more detail than I can give you in this short time! If I don't depart *now* I'll miss the AGM (and the drink I've been bribed with beforehand) so I will publish now but post again later with links to some of the workshops I went to later in the day. Chin chin...

posted by Emma | 0 comments

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