Entering a new era

Kim Streets the new chief executive if Museums Sheffield at Weston Park Museum
Kim Streets the new chief executive if Museums Sheffield at Weston Park Museum

Ian Soutar talks to chief executive Kim Streets about a year of change for Museums Sheffield and the challenges ahead

“it will be nice to leave 2012 behind,” reflects Kim Streets, chief executive of Museums Sheffield, with feeling.

Chris Watson, audio artist and  founder member of electronic pioneers Cabaret Voltaire

Chris Watson, audio artist and founder member of electronic pioneers Cabaret Voltaire

After all, the year began with the city losing its elite status among UK galleries and museums when Arts Council England rejected its bid to have its national funding of £1.4m per year for the next three years extended,

It prompted the departure of her predecessor as chief executive, Nick Dodds, leaving her to implement a 30% reduction in the overall budget from April which included a programme of staff redundancies.

There was consolation later in the year when the Arts Council England agreed to Strategic Support funding of £1,2m split over the next two and a half years.

The condition is that Museums Sheffield becomes a leaner, more robust and resilient organisation by not only maintaining an exciting creative programme but increasing income from retail, corporate hire and events, developing a strategy for donations and corporate sponsorship, and building up a pool of volunteers to work alongside professional staff.

Thus a lot of the Strategic Support funding concerns improvements in infrastructure such as the introduction of a new computer system which will make the retail side more efficient.

“We will also be looking at how we can modify access to the Millennium Gallery to enable us to open earlier in the day. It’s little things like that,” says Streets.

Another aspect will be energy efficiency and to this end there will be a feasibility study on introducing solar panels.

There is now funding for a number of specialist posts including a curator of archaeology, digital producer, events producer and children and young people’s co-ordinator.

“We have to exploit our commercial potential by increasing income and also our profile,” continues the chief executive. “We need to connect with the city, to be part of the city is important.” Co-ordinating with the city’s annual festivals and exploiting the Millennium Gallery as a venue for events are examples.

What most people will be interested in, however, is what we will see in the Millennium Gallery, the Graves and Weston Park Museum. It is clear that the days of major exhibitions touring here are past.

“One of the things that has been successful in recent years has been the Great British Art Debate which brought some really big-hitter exhibitions but the project ended this year,” says Streets. “That was all about partnership (with Tate Britain, Tyne & Wear Museums, Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service), and we will be looking to see how we can develop that relationship.”

And presumably those exhibitions from the Tate and the V&A are also victims of the Arts Council cuts to Sheffield. Not so, says Streets. “Both the Tate and the V&A have been very supportive of Sheffield through our difficulties. What they are saying is that the landscape of the whole sector has changed and that will necessitate a different approach.”

One noticeable change with the 2013 exhibition programme is that they will run for longer periods than in the past.

The current Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin’s Landscape will continue until June to be followed in the autumn by Inside The Circle of Fire, A Sheffield Sound Map, an audio installation by Cabaret Voltaire’s Chris Watson.

The programme will also tap into anniversaries with Designed to Shine 100 Years of Stainless Steel in the Craft and Design Gallery from February and then Weston Park will mark the centenary of the start of the First World War with a major display in 2014.

“There will be a strong Sheffield thread in our exhibitions and you will get a real Sheffield flavor in the programme,” continues Streets. “I think it’s important that people understand what is in the collection and know how it compares with other cities and develop a degree of pride in it. Sheffield is taking centre stage but also how we interact with what’s going on outside to show we don’t exist on our own. It’s how we respond in a more fleet-of-foot way to what’s in the zeitgeist.”

As Museums Sheffield and Kim Streets leave 2012 behind there is another dark cloud on the horizon in the announcement of cuts by the city council which is expected to impact on arts organisations in the city along with other services.