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Common Cause - North and Mid Wales - Museum Partnerships Study

Executive Summary

"Museum to museum" dialogues are not good. It would be of benefit to meet others.

Ivor Murrant, Llanrwst Almshouses

Where we are in North Wales cuts you off. There is a divide between North and South Wales, but to an extent we make it that way. It depends a lot upon the characters. You have to give the time to know what's going on.

Pat West, Ynys Mon

The study was initiated by a Steering Committee comprised of professional museums officers in North and Mid Wales and was funded by CyMAL. It covers the areas north of an oblique line between Aberystwyth and Montgomery. The nature of the museum provision is that services are small and relatively geographically isolated. As a result, museum-to-museum business activity is limited, as are opportunities for sharing experience and knowledge.

Conclusions

In the areas of formal learning and storage, local authority museums in the study area exceed the Wales national average in the level of their provision. They also exceed the Wales average in provision of suitable buildings. This is remarkable because it is clear from analysis of financial data from Spotlight Wales that non-nationally-managed museum budgets in North & Mid Wales are 30% below the national average.

Whether run by local authorities, trusts or universities, most museums in the study area are achieving minor miracles on a shoestring. However, Spotlight Wales demonstrates that these museums are often unable to achieve the same levels of service as the Wales average.

If the museums in the study area are to improve and achieve the same levels of service delivery as the Wales average, they may need to be identified as a special case and given dedicated support.

Although individually their work is often good, curatorial confidence is low and will need to be raised if improvements are to be made. The areas which would most immediately benefit from partnership working include:

A stronger voice for the needs and contributions of all museums in the study area is necessary if it is not to feel ignored nationally. This should also include trustees, elected members and chief officers.

There is a strong spirit of enthusiasm for collaborative working in museums on the ground and from senior local and national figures. Given the low staff numbers which characterise museums in the study area there is little surplus capacity to invest in setting up and maintaining partnerships, however beneficial they may be long term. It should not be assumed that effective raising of standards overall can happen without additional targeted support.

Support for future museum improvement in the study area will depend upon a combination of national structures, local investment and effective mutual support. This would require the active engagement of:

The North and Mid Wales Curator's group should be re-formed as an inclusive and proactive group which works federally with both smaller clusters locally and large organisations nationally, responding to consultations and representing the interests of museums in the study area.

A Partnerships Officer should be appointed on a two year contract to assist in the initiation and co-ordination of new relationships and to give practical assistance to them.

At a national level the Federation of Museums and Galleries in Wales is the most appropriate organisation to ensure that museums in North and Mid Wales are fully recognised and included in the Wales-wide family. However, it would have to change its working practices if this were to work satisfactorily.

Recommendations