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Meet Jim Richardson

MuseumNext is Europe’s major conference on the future of museums. The event brings together delegates from around the world to discuss ‘what’s next?’ across all aspects of the museum including architecture, exhibitions, technology, skills, collections, conservation, purpose and leadership.  MuseumNext 2015 will take place in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Meet Jim Richardson, who also heads creative agency Sumo.

Tickets are £500 and you can book now at: www.eventbrite.co.uk
For more information please visit: www.museumnext.com
For more information on Sumo please visit: www.sumodesign.co.uk

Monday, 16.03.2015
12:00 (Cet)

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Qompendium: Jim, why did you start this project and what is your goal with MuseumNext?

Jim: I’ve worked with museums for twenty years, advising them on branding and marketing. Ten years ago I started to see a real shift in audience expectations, driven primarily to technology and I started to write articles and speak at conferences about the need for change.

The museum sector is a very open and collaborative space and an online movement of people with similar ideas quickly grew. It made sense for those people to come together in the real world to share ideas and best practice, and so MuseumNext was born.

You initiated Museum Next and it is an established symposium for some years now. Please, describe a typical museum director; what differentiates a director from a CEO in a profit making company?

This year at MuseumNext we’ll have about 50 museum directors in attendance, but in all honesty this is a big shift for us. I think technology is seen as the reserve of a department within a museum and directors have delegated that to others and focused on the big picture.

But I think that the two worlds are now coming together as the tech becomes more invisible and as younger museum directors take over cultural institutions.

Qompendium: That is true, I have also witnessed efficient changes both economical as content/curatorial wise when younger and fresher directors are on board.
There is this stench of bad paid museum jobs. Why do you think it is still a desire to work for museums as a graphic design bureau? What do you think should / could be changed / done on both sides?

I think that branding and marketing works better when you have a great product, and museums are fantastic. So I’ve always been drawn to work with them.

In the past five years we have seen budgets fall, and I think I’ve just tried to have honest conversations with museums about what is possible when they have less money to spend. Unfortunately we can’t deliver the same result for half the money.

We also try to talk honestly about how museums are appointing people to work with them on brand or marketing. We won’t get involved in elaborate creative pitches to win work, we’d prefer to be judged by our portfolio than blunder in with work done before we’ve had a chance to understand the client or their audiences.

Bluntly put, I think a lot of museum branding look alike and offer the same lame thing. Could you provide 10 things a museum should change permanently to relaunch themselves?

In the UK, where I am based there are roughly 2,500 museums and they vary massively in subject matter and size. You have museums about really niche subjects like bagpipes or trains and then you have the large national museums like the British Museum or TATE, but you do also have the traditional city museums which can be quite similar.

I think those small niche museums have an obvious point of difference in the subjects they cover, and the big brand museums in London are almost a completely different animal, but the traditional city museums can do a lot to improve.

I think many should realise that their value as a public space is as important to the public as their collections, so they should look at how they can invite the public to use that space. For example can the museum host a yoga class in the gallery or hold a farmers market in their café? I also think that museums need to go beyond their walls, and not wait for people to discover them. Its all about engagement with the public, getting new people into the building and taking the collection out into spaces where people wouldn’t expect to have a museum experience.

Museums are mostly cultural hoarders of data and many of them do not utilize their assets properly. What do you think on this issue? I am fully aware that some institutions have released their digitized archives to the public. Do you think that is useful?

I think that the hoarding of data probably has more to do with a lack of resources more than anything else, but there have been huge projects over the past few years to digitise and share collections (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings).

The Rijksmuseum have led the way by not only releasing their collection for the public to view, but also by making it commercially available free of charge for any creative individual who wants to use it (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio). This is being replicated by other institutions around the world and certainly seems to be the direction that the sector is heading in.

I think that the data which the public hold is also something which technology is unlocking, so many museums are using crowdsourcing projects to encourage people to share stories, pictures, information.

Apart from making “intellectual property” available by digitizing them museums have also started ventures in the realm of concept stores and merchandise. Yet I think many of them have failed. I have not seen one museum store that has offered goods that I would want to buy immediately. Mostly all stores offer cheap art junk. There are a few exceptions. But why are museums not able to sell proper merchandise?

Most museum shops are terrible.

But I love the V&A shop, they seem to have put real effort into commissioning designers in a thoughtful way to create a collection which not only compliments the exhibitions, but is also a retailing experience in it’s own right. http://www.vandashop.com

I also noticed that the National Portrait Gallery in London have been working with the artist Grayson Perry on a special collection for their store, and that kind of collaboration with artists seems like a step in the right direction http://www.npg.org.uk/shop

What will we all “learn“ during the next MuseumNext conference?

MuseumNext brings together more than 500 museum professionals to talk about what’s next for the sector, we’ve got delegates joining us in Switzerland from around the world, with presentations about technology, soft power, entrepreneurship and leadership.

Importantly the programme allows for lots of networking to give delegates the chance to not only learn from those on stage, but also from each other. We often hear that the most important take away for delegates is the connections that they make.

Tickets are £500 and you can book now at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/museumnext-geneva-tickets-12542530045

For more information please visit: www.museumnext.com
For more information on Sumo please visit: http://www.sumodesign.co.uk

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