Existing practice

MoDiP worked on the Symbiosis project with a range of small specilaist museums. We defined 'small' museums as museums with fewer than five full-time-equivalent staff. These museums specialisms included army regiments, bricks, carpets, chairs, farming, hats, optometry, rural life, textiles (embroidery and silk) and sculpture. The information here is based on the experiences of these museums and thus these findings are based on a small sample. It is hoped that nonetheless it will provide a useful benchmark for other museums of similar size.

Time spent

Five museums that participated in the project spend one day a week on building relationships with their industries. 20% of the time available suggests they see it as a high priority. Four others spent between one and four hours a week. Others spent none. Some felt they had other priorities such as building visitor numbers.  One museum said that this was work done by museum trustees rather than by museum staff.

How contact has been made

Everyone used a mixture of emails, letters and telephone calls. One museum had had 200 posters printed which they sent to companies accompanied by a letter. Others used aspects of social media. Five had made visits following up on initial contacts.

How contact has been received

On a scale from zero (negative) to five (positive),  one museum gave a rating of 5, four gave a rating of 4, and another a rating of zero. Another saw it as early days but had received two donations, and another found that companies were 'non plussed'. The overall picture was modestly positive.

Nature of engagement

Supported engagement undertaken includes:

  • Mounting an exhibition which tells  the story of a local company. 
  • Support for a Heritage day.
  • Making a video of the work of a local manufacturer. 
  • Bringing academics, industry and creative people in a particular specialism together.
  • Working with technologists to make a product with particular and unusual characteristics.
  • Engaging with microbiologists to create a behind the scenes event.
  • Storage of museum objects on company premises.
  • Manufacture of student designs.
  • Archival advice.
  • Licensing patterns from the collection.

Lessons learned

It takes time to foster relationships with industry and maintaining relationships is challenging.  Many museums feel they have other priorities. It is only possible to succeed if building relationships with industry is seen as central to the museum's mission. There is a feeling that the benefits are perhaps greater for the museum than the business sector. Museum workforces find it hard to appreciate how much they have to offer their industry.

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