I am nearly at the half-way mark of my Change Makers leadership programme. The key focus for me has been my placement here at the Royal Institution of Cornwall. I was tasked with leading a radically different style of programme and workforce development. Change Makers values are based on diversity, inclusion and thinking differently about the role of cultural organisations in their communities.
How do you encourage change in an organisation celebrating being 200 years old? The opportunity of shaping the programme for the RIC bicentenary was the ideal point at which to come in to challenge and change ways of thinking across the organisation. I have learnt that change takes a long time and can manifest in many different ways, and not always as you expect.
The most important aspect of the bicentenary programme development was situating it in a set of strong values that felt relevant and forward looking, rather than just being nostalgic about the past, honouring a few already famous great old men.
The RIC was established “for the diffusion of science and promotion of literature” in 1818, during a time of rapid social, economic and technological development in Cornwall and around the world.
It was a period in which Cornwall was more connected to the world through its maritime links and business network than it is today. The concept of a museum to support this learned institution was forward thinking for its time.
By the end of its first year of operation, the local newspaper could already boast “a Museum already stored with valuable models; specimens in mineralogy, geology, and natural history, not to be surpassed by any in the kingdom except the British Museum; and a laboratory for the analytical chemist.”
Capturing the essence of these early times, I went through a period of wide consultation, research testing and review to shape a programme that wasn’t narrowly focused just on the story of the RIC’s birth but to take instead its pioneering spirit and apply it to today.
The resulting programme will be the result of extensive work with our communities to create a year-long celebration that will hopefully be memorable in 200 years time.
The RIC has adopted four founding values to represent itself as Cornwall’s window onto the world, and the world’s window onto Cornwall, in 2018:
- We celebrate the enterprise and ingenuity of Cornwall in 1818
- Kernow’s place in the world – sharing Cornish perspectives in an international context
- Rebirth – we are contemporary and diverse
- We are changing how we work
These values are underpinned by an organisation-wide desire to be more inclusive of diverse people, both in how people participate in the museum and also in how we represent a wide variety of people in our galleries and online.
As the brilliant museum team continues the planning of next year’s exhibitions, events and activities, I will be focusing my time on supporting them by developing a pilot workforce programme called Citizen Curators. Citizen Curators is a work-based training programme aimed at skilling up museum volunteers (and also staff who want to develop new and refresh old skills) in modern curatorial practice.
Recruiting up to 12 participants, with 50% under the age of 25, the RIC’s Citizen Curators will form a community of practice to increase the museum’s capacity to care for and provide better access to its collections and the knowledge and stories they represent. The pilot starts in Autumn 2017.
Tehmina’s leadership placement at the museum continues to March 2018. Change Makers is hosted by Cornwall Museums Partnership with whom she is also undertaking research in to cultural opportunities and exclusion in a rural context here in Cornwall. She is a consultant curator and historian, a member of the Museums Association Ethics Committee, an Accredited Member of the Association of Facilitators and a Museum Mentor. She is also an activist for better representation of minority heritage in museums, especially the Cornish.