Paul Young receives guidance on partnerships and funding, in response to his question about opening a children’s TV museum as a social enterprise.
“I started collecting children’s television memorabilia nine years ago and now have over 250 items from Muffin the Mule and Sooty & Sweep to Thunderbirds and Wallace & Gromit. I started Animazing two years ago, have had two successful small exhibitions and run a series of children’s animation workshops in East Sussex. This year, our exhibition at Devonshire Collective gallery attracted record numbers of audiences plus coverage on ITV Meridian, BBC Radio Sussex and other regional press.
“My goal is to open a museum dedicated to children’s television as a social enterprise. I’ve been told that paid museums are struggling and perhaps we should just continue with temporary exhibitions and workshops. But I think we’ve got something unique that could be really successful. I’m curious to know what people think and to hear any other ideas about how we could bring the fantastic story of children’s television to everyone.”
Paul Young, Animazing
This sounds like a fascinating collection. I imagine almost everyone has strong emotional memories linked to childhood TV, so there is certainly appetite for the subject. I wonder whether a museum is the right way to do that though - you wouldn’t be the first person to broach the subjects of nostalgia and childhood.
I think your main issue arises from using the term social enterprise. Museums seek to collect and display collections to the public for the love of it, not for the cash. If you start with the idea of making any money out of his collection, you will make few friends in the heritage sector. We collect things because we believe they need to be collected, not because we want to profit. Break even, yes, but there are very few museum employees with large retirement funds. This is a sector where there’s a labour of love.
If you want to make a commercial concern out of it you can do, of course, but that’s a business. Museums are usually charities, not businesses. Harry Potter studio tour (commercial concern designed to print money) is very different from the British Library’s current Harry Potter temporary exhibition (publicly owned institution trying to balance the books).
Setting up a new museum is hard work, especially if you don’t know the sector well or have contacts. Free advice can only get you so far. If you want deep sector advice, I’m afraid you’ll need to pay for it. There are plenty of consultants out there who would help you if there was a fee attached. It’s certainly worth considering partnership working though – perhaps the Museum of Childhood (although they are probably swamped with offers) or a local authority museum (although their budgets will be tiny given large funding cuts to public sector arts).
Given your collection, I wonder whether the best output might not necessarily be a museum or a visitor experience – it could be online, a blog, a podcast, a YouTube channel, publishing, greetings cards, tote bags, prints for sale, etc. I wonder if that might be a more profitable – and admittedly easier – way of doing things in the short term, at least.
Steve Slack, writer and museum consultant
Firstly, congratulations for turning your passion into a business and it sounds like a successful one at that!
While no one goes into the museum business to make money, we all need to make a living right?
The traditional build it and they will come museum is slowly being demolished brick by brick for a more socially purposeful entity. The first question, is what is the use of this museum? What need does it serve?
If you’ve already built a community of people interests in your workshops, you’re already halfway there. Involve your community in the creation of your new museum – ask them what they want. Their answers may surprise you.
There are obvious pluses and minuses to having a permanent location: higher overheads vs feelings of permanence and gravitas. I know of a few newer museums which are having that very discussion: do we create a permanent home for our collections but lose our ability to be nimble and adaptable? Museum And, the Museum of Homelessness and The Migration Museum Project are all great examples of museums without physical locations – yet.
Another place I would look to for advice would be the Association of Independent Museums. They have plenty of resources and advice on their website that should help you on your way.
Katherine McAlpine, museum professional
Oh I wish I knew the answer to this question – it’s something I’m struggling with too! I’m currently stuck in the first phase of creating the Vagina Museum – fundraising. I know exactly what I’m going to do and have plans for sustainability and resilience once I have some seed funding, but it’s that initial getting off the ground we’re struggling with.
I would say that if a paid museum is really what you want to do (perhaps it would be worth doing a feasibility study) then you should be diversifying your income to increase resilience. Holding events, selling merchandise, venue hire, workshops, outreach and education, consultancy, a friends of the museum scheme, corporate sponsorship – all of these and more have to be in your portfolio to guard against one income stream taking a hit (many museums rely solely on private donations and public funding). Though of course, to get to that point you’ll need a location in which to house your collection.
Looking for a location, fitting it out and staffing it will be very expensive. My plan, which is one many new museums follow (such as the Climate Museum in NY), is to get an interim space and build up to a permanent home. Perhaps a related business or institution (V&A Childhood Museum? CBBC?) could let you use part of their space for an interim museum while you search for the permanent one.
There is no one method to building a museum. The Design Museum started in the basement of the V&A as the Boilerhouse Project, the British Museum of Food is a project by the very successful Bompas & Parr. You have to follow a path that fits your project.
Florence Schechter, Director and Founder of the Vagina Museum
You should look at joining the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) which supports and champions independent museums across the UK. They have a membership which includes museums that started as private collections like yours, and member museums who now operate as social enterprises. Their website includes free resources including a guide to successfully setting up a new museum, which covers many of the issues that you would need to consider.
Museums Galleries Scotland also has a very useful toolkit that people can use to help make decisions about setting up museums. It’s called ‘Big Questions Big Answers’ and can be downloaded here – you don’t have to be in Scotland to use it!
Arts Council England funds a network of museum development programmes in England and you could look to South East Museums for some advice around this option. There is a whole range of support available if you decide to go down the route of becoming an accredited museum (the Accreditation Scheme sets out nationally agreed standards for UK Museums).
Emma Chaplin, museum consultant
Your collection sounds fantastic! You’ll need to convince funders that there’s a need and desire for a museum.
Write a business plan. Think about your audiences. Who are your target audiences and what would they want from a museum? Do they want a physical museum? Could your collection be online? Don’t make assumptions – talk to people to find out what they want.
Make partnerships. Who might you be able to work with to make this a reality? How can you support each other?
Talk to funders. They’ll be able to give you great advice about what is possible. Think about other fundraising possibilities as well – how can you raise money to get the museum off the ground and to support future operations?
Talk to others who’ve founded museums. The museum sector is full of talented people who are very willing to share tips, best practice and experiences. Best of luck!
Laura Crossley, museums & heritage consultant
I would strongly recommend you consider registering as a charity. This puts the business in the best possible place in terms of being able to apply for and draw down grant funding.
Any funders will be interested in how successful your exhibitions to date have been, how important the collection is and the difference the museum makes/could make to people. Collect as much audience feedback as you can.
Consider phasing what you do and build on the success of the exhibitions so far by creating a touring ‘pop up’ museum to generate awareness, support and attract potential sponsorship. You could even diversify the offer around it, for example a ‘Festival of Kids TV’ with talks and screenings alongside the objects.
Consider the wider impact that the museum could have to meet the needs of the local community beyond the exhibition itself – informal learning sessions during the school holidays, or reminiscence sessions for older community members. Are you able to offer food and drink?
Also consider your offer and your audience – make sure, if possible, that you are collecting items from current or more recent kids TV, so that you can have as broad an appeal as possible.
Strategic partnerships can be a great way to raise awareness of your offer and also generate extra volunteer support and donated items. Look to work in partnership with other museums – local ones, or ones with a kids TV interest such as the Museum of Childhood. Consider pairing with a national newspaper or getting some coverage on national radio or TV (e.g. The One Show).
Try and get some celebrity endorsement if you can!
Becky Jefcoate, former Project Director of Wells Maltings Project and Marketing Manager for the Museum of London
Would you like to receive advice from AP readers? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with information about your situation and the guidance you’re looking for.