David Anderson's Blog
End of an era
Last week mainly consisted of a number of internal meetings, such as audit committee, staff executive and so on. All are important of course, but it does mean that during such weeks I do not get the chance to visit sites outside of Cardiff.
The evenings were also busy, and on Tuesday night I went to a dinner hosted by the First Minister to mark the special relationship between Japan and Wales. It was the first type of event since the election, and it was clear that the international profile of Wales will be important to Carwyn Jones over the next few years. His speech was excellent, and I was amazed to learn that there are over 130 companies from Japan operating here in Wales. Though it was a lovely evening, it did strike me that there were very few women present and that most present were men of a certain age in suits, like myself. This was reinforced in a performance by a Male Voice Choir. They were excellent singers, but it did make me wonder if in the future we could showcase a more creative Wales at such events? Something to ponder anyway...
Wednesday evening was also a late evening, this time at the Museum to mark the retirement of our President, Paul Loveluck. I have only been in post in Cardiff for 8 months, so I have not had the privilege of working for years with Paul as some of those present hae done. But in that short time, it is already clear to me that he has been an exceptional President. His combination of vast managerial and Chief Executive experience in different organizations in Wales, and personal values, is exceptional. I have found that Paul is hugely liked and respected by everyone, inside and outside Amgueddfa Cymru. And they in turn feel that he respects them.
His diplomatic skills, and his ability to understand and represent many different groups in Wales, have ensured that significant and potentially serious challenges and difficulties have not developed into crises.
Paul has overseen the most important changes and developments in Amgueddfa Cymru, certainly since the opening of St Fagans in 1948, and possibly since its foundation. His legacy is one of impressive physical transformation of our sites for public good, but it is also of something even more important - an organization that over the last 9 years has been shaped by his values.
The best tribute we can pay to Paul is that Amgueddfa Cymru holds these values close, and carries them forward in its heart. Though we of course look forward to a new chapter with a new President, we will miss Paul and the contribution he's made to our work.
Fun, but an important insight
Over the past few weeks, I have been undertaking work experience at our sites. There are two to go - Llanberis and National Museum Cardiff - but I thought it would be interesting to report back on what I've been tasked to do up to now. One of the things that struck me the most was the high level of skills required at all of our sites to ensure that everything runs smoothly. It is not just a matter of opening and closing the gates at the start and end of every day, and each member of staff has an important role to play in ensuring that we deliver the best for our visitors.
I was given a wide range of tasks that were in accordance with my limited skills level in some areas! Highlights included taking part in the safety inspection at Big Pit, selling a site booklet at Caerleon, cleaning the ladies toilets at Swansea, supervising the operation of the carding machinery at Drefach and removing corrosion on the earliest surviving mining truck in Wales at our Collections Centre in Nantgarw. St Fagans worked me the hardest, from removing hundreds of dead heads from tulips, to creating threads by hand for the reconstruction of the Clogmaker's cottage to making nails from scratch at the Blacksmiths workshop. I nearly succeeded in making the perfect nail, but I made the mistake of overheating the metal meaning that the nail became too brittle and alas, unusable.
I'm looking forward to completing my work experience at the remaining sites! It has been a fun experience, but also an important one as it has given me a different insight into the workings of each of the sites. It has been a great way for me to get to know staff in a more informal environment. Although formal presentations are necessary from time to time, I do prefer having the opportunity to talk one to one.
Here, there and everywhere
At the end of last week, I went to Dublin. It was in the middle of their elections, and the results weren't known by then but there was an obvious appetite for change. Among the people I met with were Raymond Keaveney from the National Gallery of Ireland, and Pat Wallace from National Museum Ireland. It was clear from what I was told that the museum sector has been badly hit by the current financial climate with cuts in staff as well as a freeze on recruitment. However, it was not all doom and gloom and we had many interesting discussions about possible future collaboration and staff exchanges. There was also much banter about the rugby, with the Wales v Ireland match looming. Luckily, my colleagues have given me a special dispensation to continue to support Ireland!
Back in Wales, I went to the opera at the Wales Millennium Centre for the first time. I was impressed by the high quality of the setting as well as the performance. We are lucky to have such a fantastic venue here in Cardiff.
I also have a bit of good news to share, as I was elected to the Board of the Museums Association. I am absolutely delighted, and also grateful of the support. I would have liked to have seen more candidates from outside of London stand and hope a greater balance can be achieved in the future. The MA have a big job of work to do now, and there are challenges ahead to fill the gap left by the MLA.
Happy Chinese New Year!
An article by me, published on the website Waleshome today:
TODAY is the Chinese New Year, and we enter the year of the Rabbit.
Although we have been celebrating the Chinese New Year for a number of years at Amgueddfa Cymru –National Museum Wales, this year is extra special for us as it coincides with the unique exhibition that we are currently hosting at National Museum Cardiff – From Steep Hillsides: Ancient Rock Carvings from Dazu, China. This exhibition has been a coup, not only for Amgueddfa Cymru but also for Wales as these sculptures have never before been seen outside of China. We feel very privileged to have been chosen as the first ever venue to host them outside of their homeland and I’m confident that this free exhibition will be popular with our visitors.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to visit the exhibition, then it is difficult to convey in words just how magical they are. The carvings originate from the steep hillsides of the Dazu World Heritage site near Chongqing, which contain an exceptional series of rock carvings dating from the middle of the 7th century and developed between the 9th and the 13th centuries. The carvings comprise some 50,000 figures in total, and are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. By a happy coincidence, a few years ago I was lucky enough to visit Dazu and see them for myself. It was an unique experience, and I remember being blown away by them. Obviously, we couldn’t bring all 50,000 figures to Wales, but this exhibition contains superb examples that have become detached from their original setting, along with accurate replicas of some of the most important sculptures still in situ and dramatic large-scale images, to give some idea of what it is like to visit these spectacular places.
Dazu is a real treasure house of Chinese art history and an important expression of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism, as well as a fascinating insight into Chinese daily life. I cannot overemphasise how remarkable these carvings are, and certainly, this exhibition would not be out of place at any world-class museum. A question that I have been asked since the exhibition opened has been why was Wales selected as a venue for this stunning exhibition rather than somewhere like the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert? The answer lies in the blossoming relationship between Wales and the Chongqing region in China, which has been led by the Welsh Assembly Government.
The origin of the relationship was a recommendation from Premier Wan Jiabao during his visit to Wales in 2000, which resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding between the Chongqing Municipal Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, agreeing to collaboration and co-operation in a number of areas, which was signed during First Minister for Wales Rhodri Morgan’s visit to Chongqing in March 2006. Since then Wales has welcomed a number of visitors from Chongqing and delegations from Wales have visited Chongqing. The Welsh Assembly Government also funds a schools project, managed by British Council, which links more than 50 Welsh schools with schools in Chongqing. There have been several exchange visits by the schools to Chongqing and to Wales.
This relationship has also extended into culture, and National Museum Wales has established a relationship with several cultural organisations in Chongqing. It is hoped that this exhibition is the first of many such exchanges, which will in future include sending some of our own collections to China. Not only will we be able to continue to showcase Chinese culture in Wales but we will also be able to showcase Wales to the world. Both countries are steeped in history and culture, and it is a fantastic opportunity for us to share our national stories.
Establishing strong links between Wales and China is obviously of great importance to the Welsh Assembly Government, and it was widely commented upon that Wales had been excluded from the itinerary of a recent Chinese trade delegation that visited the UK. But those critics should not despair. I believe that the Welsh Assembly Government is laying the foundations for a successful long term friendship between the two countries, not just a relationship based on business and economics. This exhibition is a small but not insignificant part of that burgeoning friendship which will hopefully evolve over time.
A great week
This week has been fantastic. On Tuesday, we held the official opening of the Dazu rock carvings exhibition and I am delighted by how it has all come together. They truly are magical, and we feel honoured to be the first ever Museum to host them outside of China. A real coup for us and for Wales! The media coverage has reflected their importance, and it has been wonderful to see so many people visiting the exhibition. In a happy coincidence, I was lucky enough to visit Dazu a few years ago and saw the carvings in situ. It truly was a breathtaking site, and I'm glad we're able to give the people of Wales a glimpse of them during the course of the exhibition.
Apart from the exhibition, I have also been busy meeting with various partners such as the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales. Although we already work closely together, I believe that the relationship could be strengthened and I have discussed with their President the potential for greater cooperation in the future. It is important that we support one another as a sector, to ensure a thriving museum sector in Wales.
I also spoke at a conference at National Museum Cardiff, Interpret Wales, and visited Wakefield in my role as one of the Trustees of the National Coal Mining Museum which is based there. I was glad to be able to be out and about this week, after being left frustrated last week as I had to take three days from work after I injured my knee. Though I can walk now, it is still painful and will require some heavy duty physiotherapy to strenghten the muscles. But such is life!
It has been a bit of a whilrwind since I took up post but I am enjoying it. The staff have been extremely welcoming, and I'm excitied about our future plans, particularly the St Fagans redevelopment. There's never a dull moment and I'm delighted to be a part of such a vibrant organisation.
Snow and Scotland
Last weekend, my wife Josie along with my daughter Isobel and son Desmond came to visit me in Cardiff. We are still looking for a permanent base here for the family so I wanted to take the opportunity to showcase Cardiff to them. On Saturday afternoon, we went to St Fagans. We came across some very hardworking staff who had spent 4 or 5 hours clearing snow from the site so it would be safe for visitors on the Sunday. The site was deemed too dangerous for visitors that so we were restricted to the galleries, but everyone was still impressed. There’s plenty to see in Oriel 1 and it was also a great opportunity for me to see what happens to the site when it does snow!
On Monday, I then went up to Scotland for a number of meetings. Edinburgh looked romantically bleak in the snow, and wasn’t the easiest place to navigate around because of the weather. I had been due to meet Gordon Rintoul the Director of National Museums Scotland, but he was unfortunately ill with the flu. However, I did still manage to have a number of productive meetings with other staff members looking at issues around education, public engagement and the organisation of collections, as well as the threat to the operation of the portable antiquities with the Westminster Government’s proposed cuts to the scheme. I truly hope that discussions will ensure that we can save the operation of this scheme as it is of a huge importance.
I also met with John Leighton, Director General of National Galleries of Scotland. He explained how at the Dean Gallery they have been experimenting with new interpretations through temporary exhibitions. They have been able to rely far less on overseas loans whilst still attracting a broad audience.
From my visit, my overall impression was a positive one that would suggest greater collaboration in the future between ourselves and the National Museums in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I think I will have to check the weather forecasts before my next visit though. My plane back was stranded and I instead travelled back by train. But, despite the weather, it certainly was a worthwhile and interesting visit.
I began my role here at Amgueddfa Cymru just over two weeks ago and it's been a busy start as I've set about meeting staff across all of our sites, as well as attending the National Waterfront Museum's fifth birthday celebrations. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming, and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to lead such a highly regarded institution.
I've joined Amgueddfa Cymru at an exciting period. Developments are underway to create a National History Museum at St Fagans and the conversion of the first floor of National Museum Cardiff to become the National Museum of Art for Wales is due to be completed in July 2011. Over the coming months, I will give my full support to these projects as well as affirming Amgueddfa Cymru as a contemporary resource for Wales. The National Museums are here to serve the people of Wales and developing cultural partnerships is a way of delivering this vision successfully. This approach is of even greater importance in light of the country's current financial situation.
Last week, we launched the document Inspiring Wales at the Senedd. Learning is at the heart of Amgueddfa Cymru and this paper is a celebration of this work and our vision to become a world-class museum of learning. The booklet shows how, as well as having an important role to play as guardians of the nation's collections, equally important is our work in interpreting and communicating the collections to the people of Wales and its visitors.
Amgueddfa Cymru is unique among national museums in the British Isles in its spread of sites and their close connection with the communities and regions of which they are a part. No national museum in London can come near it in this.
Its collections are also exceptionally diverse in their range of disciplines – from social history to art, from natural sciences to industrial history. This enables the museum to appeal to an exceptionally broad audience, with a good gender balance – again, unlike some museums in London!
The opportunity to work in one of the great Celtic museums has a particular appeal for me. Having been born in Belfast and studied Archaeology and Irish History in Scotland, I am glad now to have the chance to learn more about Welsh culture and history.
David Anderson's Blog