Dr Suzanne MacLeod , Director and Head of School, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester gave this presentation to mark the end of Museum 2015: The Agile Museum.
We are at the end of the conference and it doesn’t seem that it was three days ago that we started the conference with our themes of agility in the context of social, technological, cultural and environmental change. What is fundamental about the success of this conference is that none of us have fallen into the trap of complaining about difficulty and change – in fact, the conference has been characterised by its optimism and excitement – a very real sense that museums and galleries can curate, lead, generate, produce their own futures and, by working with others in full and mutually beneficial partnerships and developing sustained and deep relationships, they can share their successes, support and nurture the success of others (be that individuals or other organisations) and be a force for (and also a resource for) all kinds of positive outcomes.
Over the last 3 days we have heard talks from inspiring speakers (and that includes but certainly isn’t limited to our Keynotes!) and taken part in generously organised and supportive workshops. All the sessions have been thought provoking as a result of the range and sophistication of the projects or strategies described, but also and equally, as a result of our diversity as a group and the effect that talking across cultures can have in making you question your own assumptions and ideas.
Sharing experience and learning from one another is something that museum people excel in, I think. This sharing, the integration of its academic arena in its practice and the increasing valuing of research is a defining characteristic of our sector and something we should perhaps think more deeply about.
We have all seen a glimpse (each undoubtedly different) of an agile organisation – creative, responsive, open, flexible, robust, generous, enabling, ambitious, risk-taking, confident and inspiring learning-organisations which share a passion for telling stories and enabling others to tell/make their own.
Recurring themes have included:
Leadership and the need for models of leadership that are dispersed and which harness the skills and abilities of a wide range of people within the organisation – organisations which offer opportunities for people to fly.
We have talked a lot about relationships and approaches where partnership working is recognised as central to generating confidence, resource and capacity on the one hand but is perhaps even more valued for the wider range of opportunities it can provide – we have seen a range of projects which have very clearly been deeply involved in processes of wellbeing, supporting particular groups of individuals, in national commemoration and in community building… the list goes on…..
Trust is a word that has echoed throughout the conference and we have a number of examples of projects where trust is not only about nurturing relationships with communities and generating trust in museums, but also about museum professionals learning to let go and trust other people.
And the idea of the long game has struck a chord with many and we have heard loud and clear that the kind of work we have heard so much about this week takes determination, time and commitment
An agile museum thinks broadly about success and recognises that success can be different things to different people
And of course at Miraikan we are reminded that there is no need to be constrained by the past and that in fact thinking about the future is also part of the museum’s role – engaging in debate and play about the future is exciting for all of us…
And of course at the centre of everything are the values driving the work – this emphasis on being values-driven organisations is very clearly central to the success of some of the museums and cultural organisations we have talked about this week and this chimes with research which argues compellingly that multi-disciplinary teams are far more effective and creative when they are gathered around a set of shared values and a shared sense of their overarching aims.
I could go on – what is clear, for me at least, is that creativity and collaboration have emerged over the last three days as two of the characteristics of the agile museum and it has been a conversation that I know we have all been excited to be a part of.
We will be working with our partners to think about how we capture the learning from the event and share it more broadly. In the meantime, can I say thank you again for all your energy and enthusiasm over the last few days. Once again, thank you to our hosts and for those of us returning to other countries, I am pretty sure that we are all already thinking about our next trip to Japan.
Thank you to Professor Yajima (Meiji University), Professor Isdo (Otsuma University), Mr Zennija (Director of Tokyo National Museum), Mr Kurihara (Tokyo National Museum), Jenny and Sarah and the translators.