What the strikes have taught me so far…

I had never been on a picket line until the USS strikes. It was a terrifying – and very lonely decision to take – to be on strike for 12 days (alas I was ill for the first 2 of the full 14). I took courage from friends and colleagues striking at other universities (especially @amy_ryall in Sheffield and @rotster in Leicester), but I had no idea what my own colleagues would think (and still don’t – I have been the only one striking from my department – the Sainsbury Centre at UEA).

I was consciously leaving piles of work behind (some of it already delayed due to large workload), at a time when I was already incredibly stressed and dealing with things at work beyond the remit of my contract. I was leaving unsupported the team I manage. I was not doing things – my own CPD for example – that ultimately would have left me better off. I was not communicating with colleagues on the management team, including my own line manager. I took striking, withdrawing my labour – not doing any work and consequently not being paid – very seriously. I did not check my work emails, or even use the time for ‘work-related’ research and writing. I have been completely on strike. And it has been stressful.

But as time has gone on, I have understood more and more why this has been important. More and more why this has been the single most significant thing I have done in my post, and beyond it. After years in universities (Birmingham, Cambridge, Leicester), as a student and now working in one (UEA), I couldn’t *not* have gone on strike. What was the point of all that education, of everything I have fought for up to this point, if I didn’t demonstrate and practice what I preach? Fairness and justice.

So – why? The strike began as a pension dispute about a change from a defined benefit system, to that of defined contribution, and a potential loss of £10k per year, or £200k in retirement. Money which is deferred payment for work already done and promised through our contracts, but that was effectively going to be taken from us. This affects worst those setting out in their careers, those on zero-hour AT contracts, those who are still students. Those whose current posts are precarious.

About six weeks ago, I had no idea what DB/DC really even meant, let alone all the other pension details I’ve learnt about, or at least come to recognise, so quickly. And then things began to unfold and crumble in front of us. Thanks to some fantastic academics and journalists, especially on Twitter (@DrJoGrady, @ProfAFinlayson, @JosephineCumbo, @mikeOtsuka, @jntod) things were unpicked very rapidly. The pension valuation was based on dodgy maths. We discovered that the process for voting to accept the valuation was undemocratic, and the number/type of people who had signed it all off was fudged. That Oxford and Cambridge colleges had been counted bizarrely and wrongly. That tiny institutions were part of USS and having the same weight as massive universities. We witnessed a farce on twitter late one night with regard to negotiating meetings with UUK not having a clue what they were doing. And to cut a long story very short, a proposal was eventually put on the table. It was rubbish (check the pension calculator to see how – meaning paying in more and getting less from it, and also including having to reschedule teaching lost by striking – unpaid). There was despondency. It was a horrible day or two of waiting and wondering. Really horrible. There was self-doubt. Despair. But the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected. By all of us. #NoCapitulation

Numerous twitter streams and blogs explain all this far better than I do. So instead of analysing things I don’t fully understand, here’s a list of some of the things I have learnt – lessons for life:

1) Solidarity

I haven’t met so many amazing, interesting, wonderful, friendly people since starting my job 18 months ago. Despite working at UEA, I have never felt such a part of the university. It’s been far better than any one to one meeting, or networking scenario, or trying to work out who does what in which department, when I’ve been to meetings in other buildings on campus. It has been real. Social. Political. Dynamic. Passionate. Coffee-fuelled. Baking-shared. With dogs. And singing. And snow. Gather a group together who are fighting for the future of education and this is what happens. We are the university.

2) The union makes us strong

It does. I had only just joined the union (actually not because of the strikes, but because the safety and unity of membership is important). I am in awe of how I was welcomed in. In awe of the hard work done on our behalf by the union reps and staff and all those working hard to share the latest updates (thank you Brett, Claudina, Trevor, Amanda et al.) We all share a common purpose and a common goal. Strength in unity. And strength in number. And it’s across the whole country. We are part of a big thing. Solidarity with university workers we will never meet, but feel united in this. I watched ‘Pride’ last night and felt it. We are the university.

3) Not just lecturers

This has been a very important rallying cry. Universities are all their people. Not just lecturers or academics, but people working in public engagement, libraries, museums, archives, professional services, teaching and learning, administrators etc etc (and huge apologies to those I have missed). I am only sad that membership of UCU is not open to staff on pay-bands below Grade 6 (I think?), as this meant that many of my colleagues at the Sainsbury Centre who may have supported the strike otherwise could not join in. (This tells me both that my colleagues need to be paid much better but also that the union might rethink its membership criteria so that it’s not so lonely on the picket line for a museum professional?) The support from ATs, PhD and other students has been particularly incredible, often losing their entire earnings to strike. We are the university.

4) Students are absolutely amazing

‘Their working experience is our learning experience’ as many inspiring students shouted, amongst many other brilliant statements on the picket line. Students came forth in their thousands. With messages of support. With banners. With Students’ Unions issuing statements in support of the strike up and down the country. And then they started occupying. Calling out the overpaid VCs with their pornstar martinis. Demanding meetings. Demanding fairness. Demanding what it was that they had come to university for. I will never forget the powerful speeches by students Michael Kyriacou and @MaddieColledge. We are the university.

5) Twitter is transformative

I’m a bit addicted to Twitter at the best of times. But this was something else. The speed at which new news emerged, was shared. Statistics were pulled apart. Documents were analysed in real time by world leading experts – for free, and in their own time. Because this is important. But also we saw Dame Lego VC, the Solidarity Dinosaur, fabulous, funny, creative people doing fabulous, funny, creative things with social media. People began sharing more widely. Their stresses and worries and what it was like to work in their situation, talking openly beyond the pension crisis, and to the general state of being overworked and under-valued, with ridiculous systems and metrics to judge us, from REF/TEF/impact, to cultures of bullying and being stressed and being expected to work 50+ hour weeks. We had conversations on and offline. We made new virtual friends. We are the university.

6) Remember this

Space and time for just chatting to each other is vital. We need to recreate, and ensure this interdisciplinary, interdepartmental socialising, idea-sharing and change-making continues. The creativity shown by so many was inspirational. Banners made. Slogans, puns, fabulous statements of support and rejecting the lies we’ve been fed. One of the highlights at UEA was that Jon McGregor refused to cross the picket line for a lecture, and instead, the Students’ Union held a wonderful ‘Writers for the Strike’ event – with Jon McGregor, Rebecca Scott, James Meek and inspiring words from students. There was the alternative university every day. Coming together for a rally. For rousing speeches, not just by politicians, but by students. Who gave the best speeches by far. Going to the pub together. New friends. Rabbits of resistance. We are the university.

7) University museums are the university

Yet it seems as though university museums currently sit somewhere between. Or even, sadly. apart. I was the only one from my university museum striking. It was lonely. But I discovered many others in university museums elsewhere (through twitter) who were on strike. It is not helpful for us to sit outside the university as some would have us do. We sit in a boundary space – not entirely academics, not entirely professional services – we teach, we research, we work with the public, we develop object-based learning. We are asked both to conform to the university (e.g. through REF processes), yet we are somehow set outside it. What can we learn from this? And what will happen (for example through the University Museums Group) as a result? We are the university.

8) Pension cuts hit women most

And in the sadly male dominated museum patriarchy – where most museum workers are women, but most museum directors are men, this is all the more disturbing. In that sense, it was a joy to be on the university picket line which seemed more balanced in terms of gender than the average museum (although I know the patriarchy is alive and well in universities too). But women will suffer the most from the pension cut proposals. And I learnt about Athena Swan, and wonder why we haven’t talked about it at the Sainsbury Centre yet. We will now. We are the university.

9) Marketisation

This is all part of a wider picture. Privatisation. Brexit. Trump. Where education is a commodity and not seen as having intrinsic value. Where it is something to be bought. A culture of students as consumer versus rest of the university as service provider. This makes me feel sick. Where privatisation means that there are more and more people struggling. Where VC pay goes up and up and the empire is worth more than the staff. This is not what education is. We are the university.

10) Strikes work

See what we have done already? It’s amazing. It’s not too late to join UCU (or whatever union you can join) and fight for what is right. The fight continues.

See you on the picket line. #NoCapitulation #wearetheuniversity


Mendoza Review

I’ve just read the Mendoza Review on the train to the Museums Association conference in Manchester. I haven’t yet read any comments/opinion pieces on it yet, so these are my immediate, rather ill-structured reflections. I am sure many conversations will emerge in Manchester over the next 3 days, and in the coming weeks, and my views that follow may shift…
So, what did I think? Although there is much to welcome (not least the joining of forces between various sector organisations – I really like the use of lottery funding for much needed back-of-house development – p.15, the need to continue diversifying audiences and workforces – p.40, to develop leadership – p.57, ensure digital understanding by senior leaders – p.61, and focus on collections – p.44), I have to say I feel slightly disappointed…
The report asks: ‘What can government do to assist in creating and maintaining a thriving, sustainable and effective museum sector in Britain?’ (p.6) My answer: it can provide funding, enable another ‘Renaissance’. The report states: ‘we estimate that the government provided total funding of approximately £844m in 2016/2017.’ (p.7) But what does this mean? Are we supposed to think this is a lot, a generous gesture from the government? How does this figure compare with the government spending on education, health, sport, defence? Surely that would give a better indication of how much museums are really valued? And what about their intrinsic value?

And then there, in black and white: ‘It is unlikely that there will be significant additional money available for the sector in the immediate future. The main thrust of our recommendations is, therefore, to ensure that we use existing funding in the best way possible.’ (p.7, italics mine). Dash our hopes straightaway. 

Despite trying to think about regional activity and the local placemaking agenda of museums, the report still reads as a very London-centric (or certainly nationals-centric) report. And as such it is hierarchical (and somewhat patronising?) in tone. The section on ‘National responsibilities for national museums’ grated particularly (p.14): ‘The Review team recognises the excellent work already taking place, but would like it to be more strategic to ensure audiences and museums outside London get what they need from the nationals’. Fine – yes, this is of course an important aim – but what about what the regionals might give the nationals? Nationals need things and can learn hugely from the non-nationals/regionals and their approaches. Nationals are still going to be getting the lion share of the funding. ‘Our great national museums are open to all and free to all’ (p.8) – they also benefit from huge numbers of tourists, and while I don’t begrudge free entry in the slightest – would that all museums were free for all? – I wonder at the financial sense here. It’s also fantastic that recommendation 9 is to grant local authority museums more freedom, but where is the funding and support to actually enable this to happen?

Our ‘wonderfully different’ (p.5) museums are exactly that. And there’s a definite recognition here building on things like the MA’s Museums Change Lives that museums can ‘bring people together and promote community cohesion’ (p.5) even going further to suggest that they are ‘integral to placemaking and economic regeneration’ (p.5) This, I would argue, happens par excellence in places other than national museums. It is fantastic that growing and diversifying audiences is prioritised, but I couldn’t help being slightly disappointed that issues around access haven’t been spelt out – mentioning different types of sensory engagements for all, for example – and importantly physical access into spaces (not least for those with disabilities who don’t seem to get a mention), but emotional/intellectual access (including through interpretation – a word not mentioned at all?) for all too.
I enjoyed the brief summary in Annex B – a history of museums policy – but was disappointed by the comments on Renaissance. ‘The MLA took on responsibility for Renaissance, which never quite took off.’ (p.84) Now I’m a career ‘child’ of Renaissance and the DCMS/DfES Strategic Commissioning programmes (the latter not mentioned in this report). Starting out my first paid role in the sector working for a hub museum in 2005, and then moving to a second one in 2007 enabled the most dynamic, risk-taking and exciting work with local communities that I have been able to enjoy. There was funding. I thought the desire and ability to engage with the most disadvantaged communities was the norm, and that there would subsequently always be funding to support such work. How wrong I was. Renaissance funding was abandoned: ‘The 2009 Selwood report reviewed it and concluded that it had suffered a lack of strategic focus, as well as funding. A new strategy replaced the existing nine regional hubs with 22 partnerships funded on merit.’ (p.84)
There is little about the funding crisis for HEFCE funded university museums too, although a review is promised. The mention of ‘over 60 university courses in the UK specialising in museum practice, producing hundreds of graduates in museum studies each year’ but that are not necessarily providing students with the knowledge needed is significant and points towards a new partnership model perhaps.
So – my main thought – some good stuff, but there’s a still a drastic need for regional funding. Anyway, that will do for now. I’ve just checked into the conference and my hotel and am all ready for #museums2017. Here we go.  


Today has been extraordinary. Adrenaline, excitement and pride. Overcome by emotion, keeping going and carrying on – and realising that the reason why I am doing it all, is because I want to get it right for these children, for the people and communities we are entrusted to inspire. And that’s such a huge thing – a privilege and a responsibility – and hard to think about, and hard to write about without raising lots of questions…

I’ve prepared for today more than I would for any academic conference, any MA lecture, any training course for museum professionals, even actually for my PhD viva. Loose preparation, willing to change at any movement.

The reason why… 180 VIPs from West Earlham Infant School in Norwich. It had to be right. I don’t know if it was right, but I think it was ok. It worked I think.

What amazing children.

I’m still settling in here. I don’t know the city yet. I don’t know its politics. But I know that this was for these children. And thank you to all my colleagues at the Sainsbury Centre who knew this and suggested it. All credit – and so much more – to the children – Reception, Y1 and Y2. I’ve never done an assembly for infants. I’ve never really even led a workshop session for this age-group.

Yet they were that wonderful mix – of being utterly excited, yet utterly well-behaved – enthusiastic and full of ideas and questions. We talked about the queen, about Fiji and its objects, about the Sainsbury Centre, and about why the queen loved Fiji, and why she was here today. We passed Fijian objects around, and looked at Fijian coins. We talked about corgis and pets. The queen was the official VIP, but it was actually the children who were the real VIPs. The pride in the crowns and flags and banners and chains they’d made said it all.

My favourite comment of the day was when someone asked the Mayoress if she was a pirate. What an amazing question. (And yes, she did look a bit like one and offered her pirate hat to one of the pupils, plonking it on their head!) The children all answered questions, asked new ones… They met new people, interacted with the student ambassadors, walked through crowds, answered news reporter questions, saw students cheering, saw students still in pyjamas, walked through the whole campus.

This (campus – or new experiences – or asking questions) is for you. One day soon. Now.

An absolute credit to their teachers and families.
I feel slightly emotional about it, but this feels like a direction… so impossible to evaluate or quantify… There’s something about an ethical imperative here.

Learning is for everyone.
It opens doors. It opens imaginations. It opens.

New Year

2017 here we are. Happy New Year!

2016 was a year of change. It involved big life events and big professional events, entangled with big world events, often all occurring simultaneously, both heartening and disheartening. In hindsight, it was hard. Exciting, challenging, inspiring, joyful, new – but also exhausting, sad and hard.

It started with a blustery New Year’s Day walk at Gaddings Dam (Britain’s highest beach). People then here, now not here. Rather too many of them. Warrior Treasures at the Royal Armouries. Working there with some of the most creative and brilliant people I’ve met. And leaving, just as I was settling in. Selling my lovely home in Sheffield. Packing up a life and moving away from Yorkshire after 11 years. Saying goodbye. More loving and leaving. Submitting my final PhD corrections and graduating. Dr Woodall. A German Easter. Hay on Wye. Latitude. Croatia. A few job applications. An interview at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. Bunnies and a lake. Head of Learning. A new place. New networks. New job challenges. Art at a university. Just what I’ve been looking for? A house to rent in a new city, a new region. New people. New places. East Anglia. Exploring. Not knowing.

And I adopted my cat, Molly, on 23 January 2016. Amidst all the change, she is a constant (albeit never constant herself), and to her I am more grateful than she probably realises. So for 2017, a hope for some more Molly-like constancy, a few more roots, and a bit of flourishing. That should do nicely.

Image of cat on arm of sofa

Molly watching Yorkshire from Norwich during ‘To Walk Invisible’.

But what does music do?

Last night I went to see the wonderful ‘Kreutzer vs Kreutzer‘, part of Music in the Round’s May Festival: Beethoven Revisited. Based on a Tolstoy story of a man who confesses to murdering his wife in a fit of jealousy, this setting is told from the perspective of the wife. A play for two actors (the brilliant Stacey Sampson and Sandy Batchelor), and a chamber music concert in two acts. This performance combined Laura Wade’s wonderful play, with Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in A Major (Op.47) in the first half, with Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata String Quartet No.1 in the second. From Ensemble 360, violinist Benjamin Nabarro played in both halves, with Tim Horton on piano in the first, and then with Claudia Ajmone-Marsan (violin), Ruth Gibson (viola) and Gemma Rosefield (cello – and her stock bright pink shoes) forming the quartet for Janacek. And what a clever juxtaposition.

The first half, flirtatious, flighty, light-hearted, funny, and the second half conflicted, complex, dark, haunting. Told initially as the story of an affair between a married woman and her music teacher (one cannot get more intimate, the text insinuates – what does music really do if not inspire the passions?), the second half retells the story as one of unrequited and restrained desire. Both have tragic consequences. What is the real story that led to the husband murdering his wife?

I had never heard much Janacek before this – or rather, I had never deliberately listened to much Janacek before this. The play enabled me to hear his work in a completely new light – a really exciting one. It sparked my imagination in a way that may not have otherwise happened. The discordant yet harmonious sounds told me unexpected things, and I wanted to keep listening. It made it relatable. I think there’s huge potential for making more chamber music like this, or for making more challenging pieces of music accessible through combining different artforms together… I think there’s even potential for using the Object Dialogue Box in a musical setting. And what better way to end the Janacek, and the tempestuous performance, than with a violin string snapping under all the pressure. This is what music does.


Imaginative unknowing

Earlier this week, the Object Dialogue Box made the journey from Sheffield to London to meet its curious cousins at the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. I was delighted to have the opportunity to lead a workshop ‘Extraordinary objects and imaginative unknowing’, with Graham Moore, the Children and Young People Coordinator at Museums Sheffield, as part of ‘Objectively Speaking’, the annual national partnerships conference at the BM.

Here is the blurb we put together about our session:

Museums collect objects so that we can know about things. But what happens if we challenge this knowledge? What happens if we begin from a position that accepts and admits not knowing? And what if we prioritise this imaginative unknowing as a strategy within museum interpretation?

This workshop aims to explore some of these questions through a practical object-based activity using Museums Sheffield’s Object Dialogue Box. Containing a series of extraordinary objects created by artists Karl and Kimberley Foster, the box encourages a sort of imaginative knowing, or, one might say, an unknowing, that often runs against the grain of traditional curatorial readings of objects. Impossibly possible objects act as catalysts for play and imaginary make-believe, which, we argue, is just as important in the work of the museum as c.ontextual object knowledge.

I learnt so much from the process of working together, as well as from the conference itself. Graham’s style of unravelling the box is different from my own. His ritual is a slow, meditative one. A hypnotic, soft voice, and a slow reveal, section by section, with time to reflect on what it is that can be seen at each stage. I loved his quiet and understated approach. I’d love to experiment more with the effect of an individual’s performance on the experience with the objects. Above all, it was fun to work together and share ideas about using the box. Graham talked about how he’d noticed that people often tell stories in the first person, but sometimes (less confidently?) in the third person. I’d never noticed this overtly. We also had interesting conversations about the ’emperor’s new clothes’ phenomenon that sometimes we both worry about. Keen to make sure we went out in the galleries (unlike other conferences which tend to forget their location), off we went with our groups up to the Enlightenment Gallery. We kept disbelievingly saying: ‘wow – we are actually doing this at the BM!’ It felt like the Object Dialogue Box had gone home, even though it has never been there before. The Enlightenment Gallery and all its attempts to catalogue, rationalise, order the world and its knowledge (albeit through mermen) beautifully juxtaposed with this box of irrational, unfamiliar familiarities, and the impossibility of knowing… Unknowing. Hopefully not its last visit there. Our delegates were enthusiastic and full of imaginative thoughts, stories, questions. We left buzzing.

The workshops were part of the day-long conference #objectbasedteaching. Divided into three themes (collections use in academic teaching, creative teaching practice, and digital objects), unfortunately we were limited just to the morning  presentations because we had to deliver our session twice after lunch. Susan Raikes opened the day hoping it would inspire, challenge and stretch. Keynote speaker Claire Brown, whose company Thinking Museum is based in Amsterdam (and who I have chatted to on Twitter but had never met in real life) started by noting just how little people really look and notice in galleries. We had to look at a painting to see what we noticed in a very short space of time, then a bit longer. Her talk focused on the use of objects for three different ends: to develop transferable skills; to stimulate curiosity and wonder; and to combat museum anxiety. She focussed on the skill of looking in particular, drawing our attention to Slow Art Day (today!): the more you look, the more you see. Referring throughout to a tactic called ‘thinking routines’ (which rang slightly cultish alarm bells for me), she spoke about staying curious for curiosity’s sake, playing open-endedly, and using this to develop confidence in museum visiting. I totally agreed with her – for me there was nothing particularly radical (does this matter?) in her presentation. A sort of preaching to the converted. I reflected afterwards though, that her talk would have been probably quite controversial and really inspiring as a new approach for some delegates, and that has to be a good thing. Anything to encourage curiosity-based enquiry. Her thinking museum certainly got a huge amount of positive feedback on Twitter.

Next Claire Ackroyd and Sofia Maskin from Bradford Museums talked about the development of a cross-curricular session there called ‘The Art and Science of Noticing‘. Children make ‘noticings’ on their museum journey. (What a wonderful word!) This session was completely delightful and captivating. A return to the simplicity of thinking through making drawings and using proper drawing pencils to do so.

After this, Sandra Kemp talked about a collaboration between the V&A and Imperial College, making visible the invisible in nanotechnology, taking an MSc cohort out of their comfort zone to think about materiality in new ways by looking at museum objects. Practical ideas included having museum trails on placemats in the museum cafe, and blogging in the first person as if an object. Above all this was a paper about rethinking epistemologies. How do we know what an object is? Indeed, what even is an object?

Next, the brilliant Helena Tomlin talked about a project she has been working on with the University of Manchester – a dermatology visual research project, ‘Under My Skin’, a curious collaboration between dermatology, museology and art practice. Observational skills, she argued, are absolutely essential to all these. The dermatologist has much to learn from the artist. She referred to research at Harvard where doctors had also worked closely with art collections when developing observational skills (see Training the Eye). Doctors gained confidence through this looking in a new way. Studies of materiality underpin all these disciplines. What can I see? What does what I can see tell l me? (And how can a talk which shows a juicy Bomberg oil painting fail to inspire?!) Helena called for the establishment of a national network for using underused collections with doctors and for doctor training (and an audience member suggested medical student too). What a wonderful idea. I hope it comes to fruition. It’s sort of the other half of the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing. The arts as esoteric and therapeutic, and as practically teaching ways of seeing and ways of knowing.

And of course, of imaginatively unknowing.


Who is here to smash the patriarchy? YES I AM! The Guardian recently published Yasmin Khan’s excellent article about inequality for women in the museum sector, and the amazing Space Invaders conference which brought together about 130 women (and 2 brave men) to discuss it at the Imperial War Museum on 18 March 2016. It was without doubt one of the most amazing conferences I have been to. Intelligent, warm, angry, cooperative, inclusive, a challenge. I loved cheering with Shami Chakrabarti that the day on which it was held was ‘tampon tax day’.

It is somewhat ironic that writing this post has taken various iterations before I have felt it publishable. The first time I wrote it (on the train on the way home), I was angry. I talked about the time I was called an ‘utter twerp’ by a male director, the problematic use of the so-called ‘Bradford factor’ to monitor sick leave (look it up – and you’ll see it automatically penalises women), the museum’s collection itself being one of boys’ toys with barely a woman featuring… Paragraph after paragraph. I am still angry. But my anger is more general now, and it makes me want to smash that patriarchy more than ever.

I think comments from the initial talk by Dr Nirmal Puwar were what resonated with me most strongly. How I identified with thinking about the threatening and disorienting capacity of a woman leader. We have to constantly prove our ability: we need to make our leadership skills visible in a way that a man simply does not do. We are made to feel small, child-like – we can only do our jobs because of others. We exist under a burden of doubt, imposter syndrome, a feeling that our authority is misplaced, that we will be harshly judged and criticised. A performance. Sometimes, I have felt this infantilism very strongly. And sometimes, I am glad to say, I have not felt it at all, but have felt respected and valued as a strong, creative, independent woman with ideas, and in a much more equal place.

I don’t want this post to be entirely negative. There is much to be said, for example, for having strong female role models: this is something to have come out strongly from the conference and something in which I believe passionately. The value of surrounding yourself with women, or with those from own own intersections, whatever these may be. Solidarity. I have been fortunate. My AMA mentor, a highly regarded female director, is someone I regularly share thoughts with, and I have a variety of strong intelligent passionate women leaders (both in ‘official’ leadership roles, as well as those who lead from ‘elsewhere’) within my networks. At the last gallery in which I worked, though I didn’t realise at the time, I would argue that the culture was entirely female driven. There have always been exceptional women leaders (both from the top, but also the ‘rebels’ from the bottom up) in organisations where I have worked. There still are now.

Space Invaders has fired me up into taking action. For too long I have sat too quietly on equality. Yes of course I have thought it vital and essential to stand up for what I don’t just believe, but what fundamentally just has to be. I left my teaching job 12 years ago in part because of the men in tweed jackets, gaffawing about cricket and rugby, and the ritual of ‘master’s tea’ being wheeled into the staff room at 4pm every day. ‘Where is my cake?’, I wanted to know. I think there I was branded as some sort of renegade feminist (said in sarcastic tones) even by my female colleagues. And although I didn’t enjoy it much, part of me feels proud now to have been educated in an all female college at Newnham. And prior to that at an all girls school in Dorset where we believed that we could do whatever we wanted to do with our lives. (Although even these admissions, I realise place me in a problematic social/class intersection…)

So what little steps can I take now? I don’t know what other women feel about their own equality (or lack of it?) in my organisation, not just on the executive board, but in its very collections, its policies. I want to find out. How can we bring women’s stories into the museum? I don’t know if the organisation has moved from an equality and diversity model to a diversity and inclusion one (as per Tate’s excellent presentation). The fact that I don’t know what the policies are and who/where they are championed is worrying in itself. I’m cross with myself for not knowing or having sought them, and I want to know. Perhaps some informal lunches with other women to discuss these things, put them on the agenda would be a start…

But I think leadership comes from all places, unexpected ones too. The hierarchical patriarchal pyramid needs to go. It should have gone ages ago. We should be following more organic, flexible, free models, experiments. Skunkworks. Doing things under the radar just to see what happens. It is out of this that I think the most radical change will come. I’d like to gather a bunch of women together, be part of a network, building on what has gone before (with Network for Change), a new generation of women in museums and galleries. Change. For women and for equality. Because this matters. It mattered to the suffragettes and it still matters for women and girls – and for all people – around the whole world. Let’s do this thing.