A time to look ahead

I don’t really do new year’s resolutions, but the new year is a good excuse to start a new notebook.

It is naturally a time to look ahead and imagine how the future will unfurl. The unpredictability of the last couple of years may make this an exercise of debatable value. I remain disappointed that our 2020 forward plan was not shortlisted for any of the fiction prizes that year; it had no other purpose.

Looking ahead this year feels a task to do only if you are feeling strong of spirit; I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t after the last two years. The challenges our society and our sector face ahead are fearsome. As we emerge from Covid the number of unsolved problems are piled high: responding to the climate crisis; making our organisations anti-racist and delivering true equity as rightfully demanded by the Black Lives Matter movement; our communities remain divided by culture wars and the fall out of austerity and Brexit; and cuts to public funding are starting to be felt. Of course, the backlog of societal problems does not rest solely with museums, but I know that many feel the same as I do, that museums must work to make our societies and our world better.

The first page of my new notebook now has only a list of societal problems, and lots of arrows and angry scrawls signalling urgency. I can’t leave this first Comment piece of the year on that note.

On my office wall is a copy of the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules written by the pop art punk nun Sister Corita Kent (look her up if you don’t know her work!). It lists 10 rules. I’m going to finish the first page of my notebook with some rules for myself for 2022. Rules to help armour myself to tackle the challenges.

  1. If a network doesn’t exist – create it. It doesn’t need terms of references, governance and constitutions – these can come later. Just meet.
  2. Build safety nets then take bigger leaps.
  3. The volume of noise does not reflect the importance of the opinion: create spaces where you can hear quiet voices.
  4. Even penguins take it in turns to shelter from the wind.
  5. You don’t have to celebrate small steps but do notice them.
  6. Don’t reinvent the wheel: adapt/build/copy.
  7. Share.
  8. Make friends with funders: their list of challenges matches ours and we are the answer to their list.
  9. Conserve energy: pick your fights.
  10. Watching DIY SOS is very cathartic if you need a good cry.

Unsurprisingly most of my rules to help tackle the challenges of 2022 are about support, networks, colleagues, peers, friends. That’s what I love about the museum sector, and why I joined AIM as a Trustee and have founded other networks. Whenever I have faced challenges, I have always been overwhelmed by the generosity of the sector in providing support, encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, expertise and experience. It’s with our networks and our peers that we can face the challenges of the year and ensure that museums do make our society and our world better.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive, The Charleston Trust