Jo Quinton-Tulloch, Director, National Science and Media Museum
This question – of what it means to be a national museum, with a very specific home – has been a way of exploring the many challenges, opportunities and conflicts that arise as we work to understand the relevance of our collections and how we can be both a museum that understands and serves its local communities; as well as ensuring that our collections and expertise are shared on a regional, national and global stage. It is through better understanding these tensions collaboratively with our Bradford partners that we have sought to turn them into strengths.
As we come to the end of this phase of the research, I am armed with a set of questions that will form the basis of how we take the museum forward, consciously working to be more embedded in Bradford and more relevant to its communities:
- How can we support the other ‘power’ centres in Bradford such as the Council and The University of Bradford? How can we leverage our influence together?
- Yet power isn’t always held by the museum. Other organisations realise more influence through deeper engagement. What can we learn from them? How can we work with them?
- How do we engage authentically with a wider set of issues and themes that are important in Bradford but not the primary focus of the museum?
- How does the museum develop and change as communities develop? How far are we willing to allow these changes to change us?
- How do we become better neighbours and develop more reciprocal relationships?
In the moment I contributed I framed the museum as having limitations that we needed to discuss more honestly with partners. However, over the last months of the project we have taken this insight and rethought it. What could be seen as our limitations – that we find it hard to move fast, be flexible, devolve decisions – are facets of what we also need to see as our distinctive contribution. That we are a museum of internationally significant collections, able to attract large numbers of visitors to Bradford and part of a group of museums across England which draws UK government cultural funding to Bradford. As a result, we do have long planning cycles and need to make decisions in accountable ways through our management and governance structures.
Yet it is precisely in being clear-headed and realistic about who we are and how we operate that we will be able to partner more equitably and build stronger relationships. We want to become part of a network in Bradford whereby the resources of the Museum complement and amplify the opportunities, people and cultures in Bradford.
We have the opportunity and the ambition to create more collaborative and partnership working; to become better embedded in Bradford, and to find new ways to connect our collections to many more people. We will do this by actively and transparently negotiating the tensions in being both national and being Bradford – and by making this our strength.