Job Opportunity!

August 24 2017

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: via TAN

Here's a good one - the National Trust is looking for a Curatorial and Collections Director. For £86k a year, the Trust is looking for:

[...] someone to lead the curatorial and heritage conservation work of the National Trust. You will work with the Director of Curation & Experiences to help shape and deliver the Trust’s ambitious new curatorial strategy, including high quality research, inspirational engagement, and excellent care for the historic environment. We provide access to extraordinary places and we want people to experience them in ways which deepen their understanding and engagement.

The challenge and the opportunity are huge. You and your team will work with our operations teams and our internal consultancy, providing land and property General Managers with ways of working that are easy to navigate and understand. That means working cross functionally at the highest level, developing trust wide standards and ensuring we have the capability and resources to achieve our vision. That includes taking ownership of the professional development for our curatorial and conservator populations.

It sounds like fun. If it wasn't for the distance between Swindon (where the job is based) and Edinburgh, even I might be tempted. Then maybe finally we could do away with those beanbags. Also, I have no idea what 'cross functionally' means.

If you fancy applying you'll need to have:

  • A dynamic approach to making cultural heritage relevant to the broadest possible audience
  • A strong track record in communication and advocacy including leading on external contacts, media relations, networking and persuading
  • A strong track record of publishing and programming (ideally in an area that reflects the Trust’s work)
  • The ability to look beyond narrow specialisms and object categories, and think ambitiously about how to connect with audiences
  • Strong people skills, including forming and leading teams
  • A strong profile in heritage, conservation or the museum world

If the Trust gets the right person, or has the courage to appoint the right person, then much good can be done. For too long, the presentation of the many extraordinary artefacts the Trust owns has been done with a lack of confidence, and a tendency to rely on gimmickry. At its root, this problem derives from a lack of knowledge (or worse, curiosity) about the objects themselves. If you don't know the story behind, say, a historical portrait by a famous artist, then you will always struggle to make audiences relate to it. Hopefully, new posts like this one, together with the new Director of Curation, will help bring the Trust's collections to the fore once more.

Still, there are many challenges. First, the Trust is too big. Historic houses jostle for attention with beaches, renewable energy schemes and farms. Second, the Trust's management is obsessed with a one-size-fits all organisational structure. Directives flow from the Trust's head office in Swindon. Wizard ideas dreamt up on whiteboards in over-crowded meetings are imposed on properties large and small, ancient and new, whether they are appropriate for that property or not. Most egregiously, the people in the middle and lower tiers of the organisation, who actually know stuff and are daily at the coal face, feel ignored. These are common problems in any large organisation.

There is a danger, therefore, that these new curatorial posts, which are billed as the solution to the various backward steps we have seen in National Trust properties (the removal of original furniture to make way for beanbags; the removal of paintings to make way for loud, incessant TV screens; the cheap, indecorous labels demanding we focus on a particular object or narrative) will only lead to more centrally imposed 'visions'. If it was up to me, I would instead hire better and more experienced house managers (for which the first requirement is - pay them more, salaries are currently in the low 20 thousands), and let them get on with the job.

All of this comes at a crucial time for the Trust, with the search for a new Director General. There was a discussion on the Trust's future on BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend last Sunday, which you can listen to here. Sir Roy Strong pointed out the many frustrations that stuck-in-the-mud members like me feel, and said that the new Director General will need to 're-invent heritage for a new generation'. In defence of her tenure as Director General, Dame Helen Ghosh said that the Trust has more members and visitors than ever before, and spends more on conservation than ever before. 

Finally, I went to Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire recently. It's a Trust house which has been filled with portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London. It's a great example of collaboration between a major London institution which has too many paintings to display, and a historic house with too few. The National Portrait Gallery has taken the lead in this approach (they have a similar arrangement with Montacute House in Somerset). I highly recomment a visit. But do ignore the bizarre projector installation in the magnificent entrance hall (below), which not only spoils the room and gets in the way, but doesn't actually work, for the projector isn't bright enough. This is the sort of gimmick that the Trust could do without.

The deadline for the post of Curatorial Collections Director is 10th Sept.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.