Musings on the day we hand over the baton of Kids in Museums Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year to Mansfield . . .

Last month our Senior Learning Officer, Robin Johnson,  left for pastures new.  He had been here for many years, and his leaving ‘do’ featured several moving and poignant speeches by time served colleagues.   Despite working here for over 7 years, these accolades revealed new dimensions to the Herbert’s history and development and set me thinking.

Robin had joined as a former teacher, but without a specific responsibility to schools.   He joined at a similar time to several other key staff, particularly among our curators.   As Robin developed his interest in making the museum a vibrant resource for schools, his colleagues were clearly on-side, and he was given an encouraging free hand by his manager.   These values were already shared and ingrained in the organisation when new opportunities appeared, such as the “Renaissance” funding and the redevelopment.  

I’ve struck thinking the concept of leadership for our creative and curatorial work.  There feels to be very little influence from the high echelons of management on creative planning, programmes of family workshops, the summer early years exhibition and other events.  I think this is because these principles are shared so widely, so there is no need to enforce these values.  It also supports so many different agendas – drawing in big numbers, offering a unique and genuinely useful service to local people, filling gaps in the activities offered across the city, being welcoming to newcomers to Coventry and the UK . . .   It’s a ‘no brainer’.  

Talking to colleagues with experience of other museums, it seems that we’ve got it easy.   It is not uncommon for inclusion and family work to have to fight its corner against some notion of curatorial purity.   Here it has been built into every corner by the curators themselves.  There is a democratic sense doing family work that I can look to wisdom from almost everyone – from the curators suggesting facts about objects that might appeal to children, to our Front of House team feeding back how families respond to what we offer.

“Family Friendly” seems to be flavour of the month in museums (and long may it remain so).   At the Herbert, these values came from principles and never from fashion.  I’m glad to say museum staff aren’t famed for their fashion sense and we’ll stick with what’s right and sensible.

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Posted on 18/04/2011, in Families, Social Inclusion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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