Philip Walker is Head of Engagement for Bristol Culture, the department of Bristol City Council that is responsible for Arts, Events, Museums, Galleries and Archives. He oversees several teams, including Operations, Community Engagement, Programming, Learning, Arts & Events. The role covers museums as well as events taking place in the public realm across Bristol.
"I am a passionate believer in opening up museums and cultural activity to the widest possible audiences, to make museums relevant to more people and to ensure that they engage people on their terms and so more people have the opportunity to participate in and experience high-quality collections, events, exhibitions and displays. Very interested in using contemporary arts practices within a museum context to animate and activate the spaces and to create dialogues between visitors and the museum. Also keen on co-creation and co-curation as effective means to engage communities and connect them in meaningful ways with museums and each other."
For my overseas research and study trip I visited Rotterdam. There are many interesting parallels between Rotterdam and Bristol. Both have a lively cultural sector, are cities with extremely diverse populations, many events and festivals. I met leaders from a range of institutions and organisations from across Rotterdam, including the Rotterdam Museum, which is undergoing an interesting phase of development. The Director took the bold decision to close the museum in order to re-focus the service on its community engagement work to embed it further into it's communities whilst developing a new space to operate from. The Boijmans Van Beuningen museum is developing a new collections centre which aims to allow more people to see more of the collections usually held in store. This coupled with a business model that develops its future resilience, both literally - from protecting collections from flooding and financially - by working with other museums, developing a commercial conservation wing and partnering with private collectors to store, conserve and display their collections.
In Rotterdam, I met with the director of ARTtube.nl which is an online channel for showcasing art, artists and art collections in the Netherlands and Belgium, funded by members of a growing network of galleries and museums. In Amsterdam I learned valuable lessons from my meeting at the Rijksmuseum - on how to get the most from teams through an intuitive and respectful leadership style.
On the whole, I found the attitudes of colleagues in Holland open to new ideas and refreshing and the overseas trip broadened my own perspectives considerably, allowing me to question and challenge how we do things in the UK and what other models could be learned from. I look forward to my next cultural exchange!