The Post-Capitalist Museum and Derby Silk Mill

I have only a rudimentary grasp of economics but I am thoroughly enjoying reading Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism

His provocation is that capitalism is broken. Cycles of boom and bust punctuated by state bail outs are unsustainable. Soon the state will be milked so dry that it won’t have enough capital to patch up the system. Bail outs transfer money from the poor to the rich, which eventually makes our society so unequal that social conflict will become inevitable.

But from the wreckage of a system built on unsubstantiated credit, a new economy can emerge. One based on information technology which is open-sourced, home-made and shared. This sharing economy is not made of controlled platforms like Uber or Airbnb, but of co-operatives sharing non-market goods, time banks and LETS currencies. It’s an economy based on sharing of knowledge skills and information.

In showing how we have got here, Mason traces the trajectory of the western economy over 300 years of waves, first promulgated by the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff. His near contemporary Joseph Schumpeter noted in the 1930s that the period of disruption preceding each wave is characterised by innovation and fizzing entrepreneurial activity.

It’s these waves which pricked my ears because they refer to many of the most important things we value in the collections at Derby Silk Mill.

Put simply, the first industrial wave was characterised by the Spinning Jenny and water power, which moved the production of cloth from looms in weavers’ cottages to the first factories (Mason directly refers to Arkwright’s Mill in Cromford founded some 50 years after Derby Silk Mill further down the Derwent Valley).

prospect of derbyc1725

The Prospect of Derby c.1725 features the original Silk Mill

The second wave was caused by the disruption brought about by the age of steam. This increased productivity and distribution, but also heralded a fateful reliance on carbon to fuel the economy. In the early years of the 19th century Derby Silk Mill eschewed water power and moved to coal. Derby itself, set in the middle of England, became a centre for the manufacturing of locomotives, an industry which still exists 175 years later.

The third wave was brought about by growth of communications technology, with radio, television and the radar, and personal mobility such as the motor car and bicycle.

By the 1960’s a fourth cycle began, spurred by the main frame computer and jumbo jet engine. Information and people moved more freely and quicker than ever before. Dominating the ground floor of Derby Silk Mill is the RB211 jet engine which certainly disrupted Rolls-Royce in the 1970s. The cost of its development nearly bankrupted the company and it was saved only by nationalisation. Yet the prototype RB211 (the engine that powered the Boeing 747) was the precursor of the now ubiquitous Trent engines which have underpinned the great success of Rolls-Royce over the last 40 years.

1 RB211 Engine 2

A bit of the Rolls Royce RB211 engine in Derby Silk Mill

Mason notes that we are now in the midst of a Schumpeter-style disruption between a fourth and fifth cycle. The end of the fourth cycle is characterised by ‘info-capitalism’ where the price of goods and services are arbitrarily costed by corporations like Apple (he gives the example of the 79p people pay to download a track on ITunes which neither reflects neither the cost of materials nor production of music).

The closed nature of information and technology cannot last forever, nor can the hierarchal nature of capitalism. New generations of users, networked as never before, view file sharing as second nature. They are used to not paying for art or music, and when they do it’s to not receive information, such as an advert free subscription to Spotify!

Concurrently, the disruption is also characterised by a financial crisis heralding the beginning of the end of an oil economy and the noticeable effects of climate change. Bail outs and climate mitigation will change the way the state supports its infrastructure.  Austerity impacts not just welfare but all aspects of civic infrastructure from parks to libraries, museums and galleries. There is a danger that at some point the state will be so small, it won’t be able to withstand another financial crisis.

So in a museum which exemplifies the last 300 years of capitalism, could our approach offer a glimpse of the future?

A post-capitalist economy, Mason argues, is based on open-sourced technology and the exchange of non-market goods like care, ideas and creativity. The Silk Mill’s workshop is full of equipment which stimulates creativity and learning. The public can learn new skills and make things using a Raspberry Pi, CNC router, 3D printer, laser-cutter alongside more traditional tools and techniques. Volunteers have made museum display cases, designed a mobile kitchen and told new stories about Derby’s cultural heritage. They have encouraged and looked out for each other as part of a collective enterprise.

Volunteers participate and co-produce with us on an informal give/get basis. They give time to hack fixtures and fittings and solve problems for the museum, in return they use the equipment or develop skills for their own endeavours. For example, one volunteer uses the workshop to develop his ideas to make bespoke skateboards, in return he teaches coding to year 8’s from the local high school during our Wednesday afternoon Code Club.

It’s not just the making of the museum which is open sourced, there is also a knowledge exchange. We propose a crowd-sourcing of knowledge and experience around collections. This, curated by the museum,  stimulate further dialogue with audiences and enhance understanding of objects, narratives and place. Curation becomes the assemblage of the interaction of the public not just the interpretation of knowledge by the institution. This is real public history.


Sourcing ideas about plan for Derby Silk Mill

In the museum space we’ll enable an ‘open’ access to collections to visitors. All of our collections of industrial and social history will be openly accessible in ‘display storage’ with additional digital access through3D scanned collections. The code could be made available to the public who could then 3D print their own version of the object.

This level of participation should help stimulate a new kind of civic institution. Most museums’ relationships with their visitors are transaction based. Customers pay an admission fee for an experience which is primarily didactic. If, as Jon Alexander from the New Citizenship Project contends, we see visitors not as consumers but citizens then the museums of the future will need to build mutual relationships with the public, be non-hierarchal and, be a platform for the free exchange of knowledge and creativity.


Posted in Derby, economy, Transition | 2 Comments

Who pays for free admission to museums in the UK?

I spent much of the last fortnight spending a small fortune traipsing round half empty museums in Tuscany. From afar I read the increasingly contested debates around the philosophy and affordability of the policy free admission to some museums in the UK.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, my parents never took me to museums and art galleries. They thought they were expensive, stuffy, unwelcoming and ‘not for the likes of us’. If they were around today they’d have a different experience. A generation of museum leaders has made them relevant, intriguing and provocative. Since 2000 the policy of free admissions to National Museums (or those sponsored by the Department of Media Culture and Sport (DCMS)) has removed many of the economic barriers to visiting.

In UK cities some museums funded by local government are free and were long before the Nationals. Some ‘civic museums’ charge. For example flagship city museums in Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Derby are free, those in Norwich and Nottingham charge.

In 15 years the policy of free admission to National museums has had the effect of dramatically increasing the number of visits. Likewise investment in learning and activity programmes in regional museums since 2000 has seen attendances surge. Visits from those on low incomes has (social classes C2DE) has risen, though not as much as those from those on higher incomes. More people are visiting museum than ever before, but it appears that it is middle-class people going again and again.

In his op-ed column on Museums Journal website last week, Alistair Brown noted

…there’s also an important positive case to be made here as well. Our local authority museums are vital parts of the civic sphere. 

They support happy, peaceful communities. They educate and entertain. They care for collections that preserve collective memory and information about the local, national and international. And they should be accessible to all, not just a privileged few.

As a director of museum trust which manages three ‘civic’ museums in Derby, the challenges of running a free museum in a time of Austerity is profound. During the period 2014-16 our public sector income (which currently accounts for 87% of turnover) will have dropped by nearly 30%. We are faced with difficult choices – do we reduce services, opening hours or introduce some charges? I passionately believe civic museums like ours should be free. I also have some sympathy with Rachel Cooke’s argument, that a museum might charge those who can pay if they…

…fund not only the concessions that must be maintained for children, pensioners and students, but also – this is so much more important – to pay the salaries of those working hard to bring in new social groups: the curators, the youth workers, the people who run educational programmes.  

For those concerned about social justice or reducing inequalities, it is worth recalling the original purpose of many civic museums. Their collections often predate most Local Authorities. Many like the core collection of Derby Museum and Art Gallery were founded by early 19th century philosophical societies. Their members wished to expand knowledge beyond their locality and further understand the wonders of the natural world through collections of specimens, archeological material and art.

In the later 19th century, individual philanthropists gifted collections or cash to develop buildings for museums. Like Carnegie libraries, the purpose of these institutions was to expand the knowledge of general public and in particular the poor.

A model of the original 19th century design for Derby Museum and Art Gallery

A model of the original 19th century design for Derby Museum and Art Gallery, in the museum stores (now on display in the Common Treasury exhibition in the museum )

As cities expanded and population increased, the management of these  museums  was transferred to city corporations and then funded progressively from local taxes or ‘rates’.

However since the late 1970s the burden of taxation has fallen disproportionately towards the poor. A higher proportion of their income in spent in tax than the rich, through council tax or regressive taxes such as VAT. Even if there has been an increase in lower income visitors to museums, they are still outnumbered by their wealthier counterparts. They are, in effect, subsiding the activities of the well-off. Abandoning free admission would further reinforce this.

The public funding of Derby Museums Trust comprises:

  • 30% of income comes from Arts Council England, funded through general taxation
  • 58% of Derby Museums Trust income comes from Derby City Council
  • Around 35% of Derby City Council’s income comes from council tax, the rest from central government grant which is disproportionately lower than councils in the South of England.
  • In places like Derby 80% of council tax payers live in houses bands A-C. They represent about 55% of our visitors. The rest live in bigger houses or come from outside the unitary boundary and their local taxes contribute much less or nothing to the museums.

A blanket admission charge would effectively mean local people paying twice for their civic museum.  Charging only ‘out of towners’ would bring in little income. Moreover allowing concessions for students, unwaged, those on income support reinforces the inequalities in access to culture. Visitors would have to prove they were poor and this would effectively means-test access to cultural heritage.

The notion that we as a society cannot afford free museums is fallacious and is borne out of choices we make regarding taxation and a desire for the market to define our needs. We should shift the burden of developing our cultural institutions from the poor to the rich.

  • More progressive local taxation, eg raising bands of council tax, or even a surcharge for a local culture tax for homes band C downwards.
  • More public investment away from London and the South East.
  • Better distribution of lottery funds to projects of the interests of the majority of players – less subsidy for Covent Garden and Glyndebourne and more for local arts and heritage
  • Concerted campaigns to encourage the rich to give to culture for public benefit, encouraging giving as civic duty and a privilege of wealth – as in the U.S.

Even so, inducements like Tax breaks for giving further reinforce the notion that the rich may deem what is worthy about culture or society. It further undermines the notion of a civic realm to which we equally contribute according to our means.

The ‘free admission’ debate is less about ‘free access’ but more about how we define society. Do we want a public realm which is increasingly privatised or open and democratic, institutions like museums more defined by the market than universal values of shared humanity and equality and a cultural life which emphasises entrepreneurialism over solidarity?

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Museums and the Civic Contract part 2 – the Derby way

In my last blog I suggested that museums reassert their civic contract with their place and their communities. This would augment the value of the institution of the museum as a place of learning, mediation and delight. I suggested that years of instrumentalist policies had moved us away from the fluid and dynamic nature of our communities. These had been borne out of a desire to help and do good for people rather than the aim of giving agency to find their own place in the world.

In the last week the  2015 UK general election has returned a majority Conservative government for the first time in 18 years. There will be no let up in the cuts to public spending, and for those museums, particularly in big cities there is a risk of decline in activities and relevance to their communities.

At Derby we made a conscious decision to involve the public in every aspect of the museum’s life. As a consequence this has caused us to think our role as civic ‘leaders’. We have the city’s cultural heritage at our disposal, our responsibility is not just to look after it but to unlock and share its delights. We shouldn’t fear, but relish this challenge

Like an onion, we wanted to peel back the layers of the museum. This process began with the Re:Make project at Derby Silk Mill. Here at the site of the world’s first factory we are creating a Museum of Making, illuminating a 300 year old story of creativity in Derby. Since 2013 we have worked with Makers in Residence, artists, makers, hackers, tinkerers and members of the public to shape and design a new museum. People can learn new skills in our workshop, make new friends and be creative in a way unconstrained by formal learning. The results of the experimental phase have been unexpected, unusual and have breathed new life into what was a fairly uninspiring industrial museum.

Building on what was learnt at the Silk Mill, we used the same co-production methodology in the creation of a new natural history gallery at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. The gallery Notice Nature Feel Joy, involved a phalanx of specialists and experts such as zoologists, entomologists, taxidemists, psychologists and musicians a well as a large group of public volunteers. The results were a beautiful melange of specimen, stories and details of the wonders of the natural world, enriched by the voices of many individuals. Never has the maxim that ‘no one of us is smarter than all of us’ been so true.

tumblr_nm6z1fQrAX1tgyzt7o2_400 (1) tumblr_nm6y6sHzcL1tgyzt7o3_250

Both these projects could have resulted in displays which appealed exclusively to the interests of those involved. To guard against this we used a human centred design methodology in project development. This analyses and foresees how users are likely to use a product. It also tests the validity of assumptions with regard to user behaviour in real world tests with actual users.

At the start we set up project labs in our galleries where we gathered user suggestions. For example there was a strong message of “do not tell us what we can find out on google”. People wanted displays which were experiential, not didactic. Throughout the project, we tested ideas in an open gallery space, making the exhibition in full public view so that visitors would feel they could talk to staff and volunteers and offer views. We would imagine, prototype, test, evaluate, make and share – just like the scienetists and artists of the 18th century Enlightment embodied by the work of Joseph Wright of Derby.

Whilst this was going on, we were fighting the prospect of huge cuts from our major funder. Last December, Derby City Council announced that funding for 2015-16 would be reduced by 26% as they responded to swingeing reductions passed on from central government. This would have had a devastating effect on the organisation, threatening the closure of one of our musuems. Reluctantly we went public and launched a petition to the city council urging them to reconsider. This show of independence changed our relationship with the city, it exposed our activities more than ever. The museums campaign was partially successful, securing nearly 7,000 signatures on a petition which triggered a debate the Council chamber. The Council was agreed to spread the cuts over two years which gives the organisation breathing space to seek alternative income or modesl of operation.

Whilst ostensibly the campaign focused upon potential closures of museums it also caused local opinion formers to scutinise our activities. Why, for example, are there collections of value in store (namely a work by Lowry) and could they not be sold to reinvest in culture in the city?

This is a legitimate question and one museums are loathe to address outside of the confines of ‘ethical disposal’ or loss of Accreditation and access to grants. Our immediate response was to put the Lowry back on display in a prominent place. Moreover it stung us into thinking more deeply about the purpose of a civic collection.

We went back to the founding documents of the museum in 1879, and read through the ‘Curator’s book’. In 1881 supporters of the new Art Gallery noted that it should not “provide a fashionable lounge where our exquistites alone may congregate to study and admire the beautiful, but to develop the artistic aspirations of all sorts and conditions.” In the 1940s the Gallery Curator wrote proudly of mounting an exhibition of artwork by refugee children from Nazi Germany.

Our response was to present the exhibition A Common Treasury. It features some fine objects, many of which have not been on show for some time including work by, Lowry, Epstein (a bust of Jawaharlal Nehru), Benjamin West, John Piper, John Singer Sergeant. There are also delicate examples of Derby porcelain and Paleolithic hand axes found in Somalia (the rest of the ‘set’ is in the British Museum). All these objects, collected over 100 years reflect a thirst to understand the world. Yet interestingly by the 1970s Derby Museums’ ambitions seemed to have been clipped, and an emphasis on collecting material related only to the city. It was as if the museum felt that Derby people didn’t know about their city. But I think to understand our place, we should discover our place in the world.


We need a world view more than ever in order to connect to each other rather than divide us. Insecurity and growing inequality drive many to narrow identity politics and nationalism. Our great museums have collections to inspire free thought, feelings of commonality and a shared stake in the future. But they have to be open to participation and constant change , they have to be brave and stand up for their values in public, but above all they have to embody the notion of ‘the civic’ where citizens and institutions co-operate in a free and open public realm.

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Museums and the Civic Contract – part 1

Last week I went to the V & A to see the All this Belongs to You. It is a series of interventions by artists and the museum examining the role of public institutions in contemporary life and what it means to be responsible for a national collection. This is an opportune exhibition, opened in the run up to the 2015 General Election and at a time when many feel that a decade of austerity will undermine the notion of a free and open public realm.

'All this Belongs to You', Neon Invitation by Neon Circus 2015

‘All this Belongs to You’, Neon Invitation by Neon Circus 2015

Apart from the bold assertion that All this Belongs to You in the entrance hall, I found many of the other installations quite hard to locate, hidden in far away galleries with the guidance leaflet difficult to follow. What should have been a call to arms seemed flat in comparison to the razzamatazz surrounding the concurrent Alexander McQueen show. That said, the programme of events and talks over the next few months looks fascinating and provocative.

In the regions of the UK, large public institutions are at risk. Many our great civic museums, supported by local authorities have seen their funding reduced by between 25% and 50% during 2012-2016. Some local authorities talk about their budgets going off a cliff with the possibility of funding for discretionary services ceasing completely by 2017. Arts Council England are shortly to publish a review of the future of local authority funding for culture, it will make sober reading. Some civic museums many of which are nearly 200 years in the making could shrink considerably and conceivably disappear.

Although the avalanche of funding cuts may be hard to avoid, museums could help themselves by being more vocal as to their value in the civic realm. The decisions politicians make are coloured not only by economic matters but also how they play with the public. On the one hand, museums are far more socially active than in the past. A more progressive profession and benign political climate has meant that a commitment to learning, participation and community engagement is central to most museums. The Museums Association clarion call, Museums Change Lives places social justice at the soul of museums.

Paradoxically the instrumentalisation of cultural policy and activity over the last 20 years has not meant that museums have fulfilled their full potential as independent rallying points for civil society. In a previous blog I noted that for civic institutions to have greater impact in the public realm they need to behave more like civil society organisations. They should allow for the rhythm of local life. Communities unite, divide, show liking or indifference to each other. Our cities have very fluid communities, there is far more muddle than is convenient for media.

Although fifteen years of instrumentalist funding has had much social impact it has meant that many organisation became proxy state delivery agencies. I’ve witnessed this as director of the ‘independent’ Museum of East Anglian Life. I was encouraged to bid for Local Authority contracts to deliver services for learning disabled adults (as a means to offset a reduction in public funding).

Long term trends show that museum visits are increasing, survey after survey shows that museums are trusted by the public. I think that this is at risk if museums do not reassert their civic contract to the public. They should assume a commitment to social justice but from a position of independence. In 2013 The Garden Museum in Lambeth supported residents of the Heygate Estate which had been slated for gentrification by Lambeth Council. They should reassert their ethics and be prepared to debate in public the value of a civic collection in all senses. If not, there is no counter to the reductionist economic case made by some elected members to sell cultural assets to plug budget shortfalls. All this Belongs to You applies equally to local as it does to National collections.

In the next blog I’ll describe some of our work in Derby Museums to reassert our civic contract, by being more open, democratic and responsive to the public

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Derby Museums Budget travails 2015-16

in December 2014 Derby City Council Announced it was reducing funding support to Derby Museums Trust by 26%. Councils across England are having their budgets squeezed to the pips, largely a result of the Austerity policies of the Westminster government.  Derby City Council is under extreme pressure to provide services in the city, but the Museums Trust felt this level of reduction was too swift, too soon.

The Trust launched a public campaign to influence the City Council to reconsider their decision. Over 6,500 people signed a petition aimed at reducing the cuts. This triggered a full Council debate on 28 January 2015. Here is the text of a speech I gave outlining the aims of the petition and my concerns about the threats to future activity within Derby Museums.

Museums and galleries are not about disposable art, they are about what makes a city and also gives it it’s unique identity

Our museums and art galleries are part of our heritage. We need to promote them and attract people to our city, not restrict their opening hours or close them. This is not the future we want for Derby.

My children have had hours and hours of fun and learning in Derby’s Museums. It has helped to shape them into inquisitive and aspirational children.

(petitioner quotes)

Derby Museums Trust is only two years old. It was set up with cross-party support to manage and develop the city’s museums. When it took over, Derby Silk Mill was closed and visitor numbers at all sites were in decline.

Since then the fortunes of Derby Museums have been transformed. The Silk Mill was re-opened in 2013 and ambitious Heritage Lottery bid for its redevelopment has been submitted with support from the City Council. At the Museum and Art Gallery the  Joseph Wright Institute was opened in 2014, 97% of the work by Joseph is available to the public. A café was opened for the first time . This years two new galleries will open exploring Derby’s natural world. Visitor numbers across the sites have increased, and by the end of 2014-15 over 100,000 people are predicted to step into Derby Museums.

Should the full measure of the cuts be implemented, the momentum for change will be stalled and many valued services will be reduced.

  • The closure of Pickford’s House Museum which has been increasing in popularity since 2012
  • A major staff restructure, resulting in redundancies of between to 8-10 FTE’s
  • Closure of The Museum and Art Gallery (MAG) on Sundays – the museum will open Tues-Sat
  • Closure of The Silk Mill on Fridays and Sundays – The Silk Mill will open only Thursday and Saturday
  • A reduction in free family activities
  • A reduction in the exhibition programme at The Museum and Art Gallery.

The cuts will reduce the museums’ impact on the social, cultural and economic life of Derby. Flourishing museums, along with theatres, cinemas and dance venues help create a vibrant city. A full range of cultural opportunities attracts both tourists and people to settle in Derby. The current economic contribution to the city of the three Derby Museum sites is £2,207,025 per year, which would reduce significantly following inevitable closures caused by the cuts.

Derby’s museums currently provide rich learning opportunities. They range from under-fives club for young families to coding clubs for schools and writing classes for older people to activities in our workshop for those wishing to develop new practical skills.

We also believe that the cuts threaten a crucial principle regarding access to public space and cultural heritage. Museums are public spaces where people can come and learn to see the world differently. The function of museums as social spaces is significant. Given the way in which urban spaces are increasingly being transferred to private ownership, museums have become an important bulwark against the erosion of the public realm. We are proud that at present Derby people are able to visit our three museums regardless of their means.

Derby Museums Trust has received numerous messages of support from the public following the announcement of the proposed cuts and over 6,000 people have signed a petition urging DCC to reconsider its decision. The city’s cultural heritage has inspired people’s career choices, encouraged them to learn more about their city, supported them to make new friends or given them a great day out.

The depth and speed of these cuts means that we will not be able to provide the current level of activity. The Trust requires more time and stability to establish earned income streams.  In 2013 earned income was 2% of turnover. Last year that rose to 6%. These activities will become increasingly important but at current levels will not fill the gap in funding immediately.

The proposed cuts will result in closures and redundancies. It will restrict the public’s access to its cultural heritage. It will jeopardise the continued progress of the trust and risk its hard won reputation. It will stunt the museums trust growth meaning that they are likely to be more of a burden to the council tax payer in the long-term

Derby Museum Trust recognises the difficult financial position of the City Council but I urge the Council to reconsider its decision by partially reducing the level of the cuts and ensuring the Trust remains viable. We would suggest phasing cuts over 2 years. This would still provide the Council with the opportunity to make substantial savings whilst giving the Trust the time to bridge the gap as it develops new sources of private income.

Pickford’s House is amazing, my kids love it, and we go there regularly. It’s one of the UKs  Treasures. Derby is going through a renaissance at the moment but if this museum closed it would be a massive step backwards.

(petitioner quote)

Following a debate Labour-led Derby City Council passed the following motion

“Derby Museums Trust was establishedtwo years ago to create new opportunities to develop and sustain your museums for the future. Council believes that Derby Museums change lives

“Council agrees to support the Labour administration in its ongoing campaign for a Fair Deal for Derby from the Tory-led Government as it seeks to find ways to not make cuts to the Museums current funding.”

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New beginnings

I haven’t updated this blog for over a year – very remiss of me.

At the end of last year I left the Museum of East Anglian Life after nine fantastic and exhilarating years to take up a new challenge. I joined Derby Museums Trust in January as its Executive Director, swapping the open air for a fascinating set of museums situated in a city renowned for invention and manufacturing.

Derby Museums Trust was established in late 2012 and is one of a number of former local authority run museum services in the UK, whose management has transferred to an independent charitable trust. Trust status has also been adopted by other cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield. All these former publicly governed organisations are working to behave more entrepreneurially, to diversify their income streams, to spread risk and to, hopefully, become more financially resilient.

It remains to be seen whether museums like the ones in Derby will have the breathing space to develop new sources of income to replace public funding quickly enough before the full impact of cuts are felt during 2015-18.

Derby Museums has some fantastic assets. Appropriately it has the largest collection of works by the artist of the British Enlightenment, Joseph Wright of Derby. It is Designated as a collection of outstanding National importance. Wright’s work, whether showing philosophers lecturing on the wonders of the Universe or depicting the early days of industrialisation, represents a spirit of experimentation and curiosity with which Derby Museums and the city itself would like to be associated. This is borne out in the exciting Re:Make project we have embarked upon at Derby Silk Mill on the site of the world’s first factory. Here we aim to redevelop the former industrial museum with groups of makers, artists and members of the public. Their collective knowledge and talents will be used to co-produce a new museum.

In addition Derby Museum also runs a gem of social history museum, Pickford’s House, the home of Joseph Pickford a Derby architect who lived there in the 18th century. This museum has great potential to explore the notion of home to a changing and diverse community in the city.

Although I’ve swapped the country for the city, growing for making, I aim to adopt many of the values developed through my previous work in Suffolk and through the Happy Museum project. I believe the best museum is a place of encounters. Somewhere people can be active and be creative, form new friendships and look at the world differently. Derby Museums will show the best of these qualities.

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The “Fan-owned” Museum

For my sins I am a Portsmouth Football Club supporter. Last month following the club’s relegation to the fourth tier in English football and having been in Administration for three years, the club was bought by its fans. Portsmouth (Pompey) is the largest club in English football to be fan owned.

Promoted to the premier league in 2003 it had successive overseas, owners, eager to cash in on the boom in English football. The club grew unsustainably  buying players with huge wage demands but unable to host crowds of more than 20,000 in a dilapidated stadium. The club could not generate the income needed to pay its bills despite cash from a generous SKY TV deal. Owners came and went, buying the debt and stripping assets. The club’s high point came in 2008 when it won the FA Cup.

Two years later Pompey were relegated, having been deducted 10 points for being in Administration. Two more periods of administration led to two more relegations. So by the end of 2012/13 they ended up in the old fourth division, with no owner and no players of note. However throughout these tribulations there was one constant, the loyalty of the fans to the club.

Last season Pompey consistently had the highest attendance in League One, despite finishing bottom. A mass appeal to buy the club was supported by rich and poor alike (although three wealthy fans led the campaign). Underpinning the campaign was support from the City Council who recognised the importance of the club to the local community. They loaned the Portsmouth Supporters Trust and a local developer the cash so they could buy the freehold to Fratton Park, the club stadium.

Play up Pompey

Play up Pompey

Supporters were able to buy shares at £1000 each and shares can be held by consortia of fans. Though not wildly democratic, fewer shares will mean the governance of the club will be more manageable. The fans won’t pick the team, but they’ll hold the management directly to account, especially in areas around ticket pricing and the behaviour of the club within the community.

Fan owned football clubs have many guises ranging from mass membership organisations like Barcelona, where to the chairman is elected by the members, or the model more common in Germany where the fans are majority shareholders. In Germany, Bundesliga tickets are far lower than in England, yet their clubs like Shalke, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have outperformed English teams recently.

Portsmouth FC start the 2013/14 season in the fourth tier of English Football and with a handful of players. Supporters are realistic that a swift return to the Premier League is unlikely. Fans realise they won’t get much, if any return on their investment – but they know that it’s their club.

There are many museums are facing similar threats. With unsustainable growth, costs quickly outstripping ability to develop assets and direct support from both the state and philanthropists declining, could ‘fan owned’ museums emerge? Fan ownership would make for a more engaged role for the users. It might democratise the museum, make it more participative and more mindful of the trends and concerns which affect their communities. Fan ownership might create a more habitual and demanding visitor, influencing its operations, from the food in the cafe to admission charges. If visitors have a stake in the finances of the museums, they’ll be more aware of the limitations and possibilities of the organisation.

On the other hand might fan ownership make the museum more conservative in its programming, playing safe to please its shareholders. If taken at face value, the recently commissioned public attitudes survey commissioned by the Museums Association, suggested that public think that the museum’s priority should be the preservation of heritage and education. Activities such as promoting well-being and social justice were less of a priority.

Public funding is in short supply and the government is pushing museums to attract philanthropists. But should our museums tilt toward mass ownership, rather than rely on the largesse of a handful of rich benefactors. Given the choice of a museum like Portsmouth or Chelsea, I know which I’d prefer

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