New(castle) directions

Posted on July 4, 2011

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My local museum has been closed for the last couple of years whilst undertaking a major move to a new site. Excitingly, it is almost ready to reopen in a new location, with new permanent exhibitions that should better showcase the region’s local history.

As a result, there have been a number of new positions advertised at the museum, but the most interesting one has just been announced… the museum needs a new Director! The current Director is retiring, and so Newcastle City Council is advertising for “an experienced operator to lead and guide the direction of the New Museum. Not just anyone, we need an ideas person. Someone who can visualise and implement. Someone who understands how a Museum operates at all levels.”

So first up, if you are (or know) someone amazing who would be great at this job, then (get them to) apply! With a new museum to play with, this could be a really interesting opportunity for the right person.

Having said that, I’m guessing that the right person is not going to be from Newcastle. One of the biggest challenges about living in this city (and I would guess, in any regional town) is that opportunities for career growth in the arts are pretty limited – and so most of the people who end up in high-end positions in our cultural institutions generally come from outside the city (and vice versa – most people have to leave to build their arts careers). Even the position selection criteria seems to imply for this, stating that applicants should have “Substantial experience in a Museum leadership capacity and demonstrated capacity to lead a small multidisciplinary Museum team” – something next to impossible to get within local area.

Yet today I was reading the AAM’s 2002 publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums. Ellen Hirzy’s report (p9) opens with the statement:

Every museum has a deeply rooted connection with its community that is uniquely its own. However far reaching its collections and scholarship or the diversity of its audiences, a museum’s particular community context anchors it, revitalizes its mission and sense of purpose, and enriches its understanding of what is possible to accomplish.

I can’t help thinking about how challenging the first months must be for a new director at a museum – particularly a local history museum – as an outsider. Not only does he or she have to try to establish him/herself in a new position, possibly within a new town, but he/she must also try to negotiate the ‘deeply rooted connection’ that the museum has with its community. Sounds like a big ask – but an interesting one. So here’s hoping that someone out there wants to come and lead at our New(castle) museum.

Posted in: Museums