Creative Museums

This is a brief introduction I gave to the recent Creative Museums symposium at Battersea Arts Centre on 25th April…

…it’s about Scratch, being told your idea is rubbish and the emotional process of change…

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Good morning.

I’m David and I work here at Battersea Arts Centre. Welcome to today’s event for Creative Museums.

On this site, 150 years ago, Jeannie Nassau Senior, our country’s female civil servant was inventing the idea of foster care.

In the Grand Hall, 110 years ago, suffragette Charlotte Despard, set out ideas to reform of our democracy.

In this Council Chamber 104 years ago, John Archer, London’s first Black Mayor was elected in a borough whose motto was, and is, Not For Me, Not For You, But For Us

It’s sometimes a bit awe-inspiring to think about the great changes that have been catalysed in these four walls, and consider how we measure up in 2017…history can feel like a tough act to follow.

Today, how do we make our own steps forward, individually and collectively, as we explore the role of museums in 2017?

We can look to inspirational figures like Jeannie Nassau Senior, Charlotte Despard and John Archer for motivation.

Or if you want more immediate inspiration, then take a moment to look at the person sitting next to you. Inspiration is almost always closer than you think.

I promise you that your neighbour can tell you something later today that will totally inspire you. Just ask them what they do and why…

Our organisation’s purpose is…

New Purpose

It is a purpose that is shaped by the history of this building. And it describes our everyday cause in every room in this building.

It is worth saying that this purpose, of which I am very proud, did not come about by magic. It was not an easy birth!

We used our Scratch process to develop it. Scratch is something we began to use in 2000 to make theatre shows, and over the last 10 years, we have begun to use Scratch for everything we do:

Scratch Model

We have used Scratch to reimagine our building, to restructure our organisation, to support the creative ideas of all kinds of people who are part of our community in Wandsworth and Lambeth.

And in 2015, we used Scratch to reimagine our organisation’s purpose, our cause.

We tested out new ideas and directions with different groups including our Board, artists, staff teams, volunteers

It’s a process that opens you individually and collectively and organisationally to being vulnerable.

I remember one moment when I pitched an earlier version, to all Trustees, in a formal quarterly Board meeting.

One by one, we went round the table, and each Trustee said it was terrible, and why they didn’t like it, for a variety of well-articulated reasons.

Now I don’t know about you – but it’s often hard to take feedback – other than “wow, that’s amazing…like I don’t think I have ever heard anything better, you’re so smart”. On many levels that’s all we want to hear, am I right?

But by analysing and assessing feedback, you get to work out what’s driving people’s interests and desires, and how you can strengthen your idea to make it stronger, more robust, more fit for purpose.

I can tell you one straightforward fact as boss of Battersea Arts Centre – that the more we use the Scratch approach in everything we do – the more we tend to get things right – in the end.

Whereas when we don’t use it – and we default to more conventional, often more hierarchical ways of deciding things – we often end up regretting our decisions.

Fortunately, we developed our new purpose through Scratch. It came about because we were thinking about the relevance of our offer to the public.

In recent years I have begun to think how strange it is that we spend so much energy defining ourselves as “theatres” or “galleries” or “museums” and often restrict our activities to limiting definitions of these types of institution.

With the swipe of a screen, people can sit on their sofa at home and move effortlessly around the globe, from one idea to another.

So why should we expect the same people to walk in to our buildings in search of a singular experience?

Why would they not want to have a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural experience?

Cultural organisations of all kinds must face this challenge. Not just as a matter of relevance but as a matter of survival.

How can we be relevant?

I think a process like the Scratch process has a huge amount to offer us, as a working culture for our organisations, to help us listen and respond to what inspires people.

It has been an honour to witness the work of the Creative Museums, as we have all thought about our core offer and our purpose.

I so think that Scratch has contributed towards reshaping the UK’s theatre landscape over the last 15 years. I think it also has a major contribution to make to museums and the offer we make to the public.

It has the potential to open up our organisations and make our offer more open, vulnerable, more in tune with people’s desires, multi-disciplinary, playful and engaging.

I will leave you with one more thought to consider today…

If you, like me, are interested in an iterative, people-centred approach, like Scratch, as part of your toolkit for managing change…then you should also expect for the changes and the transformation to your organisation to be an emotional journey as well as an intellectual one.

It is emotional because it is personal and it is affecting.

Arguably, it is not real change if it does not stir strong feelings along the way.

But emotion is something that we tend to shun inside our organisations.

We often think it is not part of being professional.

What if, far from shunning the emotions we encounter, we use them as a way of driving the process towards positive and progressive change.

I remember when I sat in that Trustee meeting, and felt personally hurt by the (annoyingly good) criticisms of the previous version of our purpose. I used those emotions to drive me forwards.

I think we should be ready to encounter our emotions, and those of others involved in the process.

Willing to encounter and express them as a positive force, rather than diluting or burying them in order to ‘be professional’

Let’s enjoy our emotions today, because they’re part of how we transform & make positive change happen.

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