The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2021
On Tuesday 2nd November, the 2021 Portal Trust Education Lecture took place at Bayes Business School, City University of London, with Diane Lees CBE, Director General of the Imperial War Museums, giving a thoughtful and inspiring lecture on ‘Creating Global Citizens: Museums and Their Role in Building a Future’.
While in previous years we’ve welcomed large audiences for our annual headline event, this year around 40 experts and leaders in the education sector joined us at Bayes, whilst many more attendees connected online. This new approach seemed increasingly appropriate however, as our speaker gave us a whistle-stop tour through the many ways museums have connected with new audiences in recent years – particularly as the pandemic closed the physical doors of their buildings.
Diane’s lecture focused on the role of museums in contemporary society, reflecting on the many different ways they can reach and engage with wider audiences and help promote learning.
Before Covid-19, there were
That's two times the attendance at football matches.
Diane told us that before Covid-19, there were over 85 million visits to museums each year – double the attendances at football matches in the UK – and the UK creative industries were worth £115.9 billion in 2019, growing by four times the rate of the UK economy. However, museums have been losing investment since 2010, with some losing around 70% of their Local Authority funding.
Diane emphasized that museums are not ‘sitting back and bemoaning their condition’ but focusing on creating and funding new ways to engage with wider audiences.
Diane challenged us to define ‘learning’ more broadly than we often do, stating that it includes ‘everything from research, partnerships, programmes, public engagement and community programmes, to schools and myriad of other descriptors.'
A key reflection was also the important role of museums in understanding today’s events, as Diane commented that ‘museums can have a central role in making sense of what’s happening today from the evidence of what’s happened in the past.’
‘Museums can have a central role in making sense of what’s happening today from the evidence of what’s happened in the past.’Diane Lees CBE, speaking at the Portal Trust Education Lecture 2021
Director General of the Imperial War Museums
She also told us that museums have helped to advance technology and share ground-breaking research with wider audiences through surprising research collaborations. A fascinating example of this is the National History Museum’s collaboration with Speedo to research the evolution of sharks – leading to the creation of new swimwear that replicated their ability to quickly move through water.
Diane noted that research collaborations can also help to ‘broker relationships between communities’ and ‘work for long-term outcomes’, such as the Justice Museum’s Mock Trials Programme for young people, or National Museums Liverpool’s House of Memories Project, which was commissioned by the NHS and works with local people living with dementia.
Diane discussed the increasing role of multi-arts professionals in the museum sector and how their work can attract new audiences by taking history into unexpected places. A poignant example of this is Jeremy Deller and Rufus Norris’ “human memorial” to the First World War, in which soldiers appeared at train stations and other public places around the UK, each representing a casualty in the Battle of the Somme and handing out small cards bearing the soldier’s name and regiment.
Another key focus of Diane’s speech was the digitalization of museums, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic. One successful case study is the Imperial War Museums’ podcast ‘Conflict of Interest’ or their BBC Bitesize ‘Empire and Conflict’ series, which both help to ‘create learning opportunities for all’ whilst allowing museums to reach global audiences.
Diane ended by reflecting on how museums can ‘help create Global Citizens who are more aware of their impact on the world, have developed the ability to question single point narratives’ and ‘been supported in the exploration of their identity’. Adding that by working in ‘creative and inspirational ways, our museums are helping to build a better future’ and are not just somewhere to visit on a rainy day – although she welcomes this too!
We’re very grateful to Diane for her inspirational lecture and thankful to have been hosted once again by the Bayes Business School, with whom The Portal Trust has a decades-long relationship built on our shared values of participation and opportunity.
Looking forward, we’re delighted to announce that Professor Rosie Meek, Founder and Head of the Department of Law and Criminology at Royal Holloway University of London, will deliver the 2022 Portal Trust lecture. Rosie will be speaking on ‘Supporting Prisoner Education and Wellbeing.’