From Wales to New Zealand
As you may have seen reported in the press, I have decided to take up the post of Chief Executive at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. It has been far from easy to reach this decision for a variety of personal and professional reasons; and, to say that it represents a big step would be something of an understatement.
It has been a privilege to serve as Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru. During this time, I have truly come to appreciate how integral culture is to Wales's national psyche and how we should never lose sight of its importance in underpinning Welsh society and shaping the nation’s future. Our recent work regarding the positive contribution our museums make to Wales highlighted this fact, and we are committed as an organisation to working with other cultural organisations in Wales to take this research forward. Wales has strong cultural assets, and there is a job to be done in turning these into a more distinct brand and marketing them more effectively, both within Wales and beyond. There is a real danger, particularly during recession, of thinking that it’s not worth worrying about culture but it is incredibly important to our country and our economy.
I am excited about the challenges and different perspectives that I will face in this new role, but undoubtedly my approach will be shaped by my experiences here in Wales and Northern Ireland. Museums can't shy away from telling national stories, no matter how intricate or controversial they may be, and Te Papa is world famous for its innovative approach to demonstrating how culture and community memory has moulded the history and identity of New Zealand's communities.
I won't be leaving immediately. Over the next six months, I will continue to update this blog and look forward to remaining involved with a variety of projects including St Fagans and the redevelopment of the West Wing.
Maori remains to return home
Today’s a special day at National Museum Cardiff, as a private repatriation ceremony takes place which will see the skeletal remains of 12 Maoris being sent back from Wales to New Zealand. It’s the first time the Museum has held such a ceremony, and I think it's important that the remains are returned to their country of origin. The ceremony itself will be quite different to the ones we usually see here! Before the remains are packed, a call and chant of acknowledgement is made. The remains - known as köiwi tangata - will then be greeted during the hour-long ceremony, which will be attended by workers from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which has helped arrange the repatriation.
Following a closing prayer, all participants of the ceremony will press noses as part of the completion process and sprinkle water over their heads and bodies. I’m hopeful that this will lay the foundations for future collaborations between Amgueddfa Cymru and the Te Papa Museum.
Well, the launch took place this morning and there was a fantastic turn out. The response was encouraging (not just because we served bacon sandwiches and coffee!), and our recession messages certainly seemed to resonate. Media interest was great, with live radio broadcasting as well as filming for the news this evening. In my speech, I posed the question - 'can we afford culture during a recession?' Certainly, it's difficult in economic terms to measure the impact culture has on a nation. Yes, we can list some key facts and figures, but the truth is, culture has a tremendous role to play in underpinning everything a small nation such as Wales does. In conclusion, therefore, I argued that we can't afford not to have culture as it's a vital part of our identity.
The Minister for Heritage, Alun Ffred Jones, also said a few words and congratulated us on an interesting paper that gives a flavour of the excitement we bring through our work across Wales. He stated that our economic message was timely, and agreed that we cannot measure the value of culture in solely economic terms. We were lucky to have his presence and support, and the interviews he gave certainly reflected his respect for our work.
Over the coming weeks, we will be developing many of the themes raised in the paper and pursuing opportunities to develop our volunteering and apprenticeship schemes. We need to keep the momentum going, and remind everyone in Wales how integral culture is to the nation. And how important it is to continue to fund it! I'll update you on our progress on this blog.
Helping Wales during the recession
This morning, along with the Minister for Heritage Alun Ffred Jones, I will be launching Amgueddfa Cymru’s latest discussion paper – A positive contribution to life in Wales during the recession. The paper is a culmination of over a year’s research, and sets out how Amgueddfa Cymru has a key role to play in supporting the Welsh economy and reaching to the core of a society that values the preservation of its unique identity.
The message we want to make clear to the people of Wales is that we’re far more than just a collection of buildings and objects. Our work takes place in every corner of Wales, through our outreach collection, research and partnership work. We also offer the people of Wales an opportunity to get involved in our work. There are a number of volunteering opportunities available throughout the organisation, from work experience and work placements to volunteering and apprenticeships creating valuable openings when other doors are closing.
"We also want to remind people that entry is free to all of the national museums"
We also want to remind people that entry is free to all of the national museums. At a time when entry charges could discriminate against those who have been most badly affected by reduced income, we offer affordable and uplifiting things to do and places to go, that people can do on their own or with their families and friends.
To read the discussion paper for yourself, click here. If you have any feedback, comments, queries or ideas then we’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment on this blog. Pop back here later to hear how the launch went, and for a summary of initial reactions to the paper.