Sam Skillings Visits Boston

Sam is a Chartered Marketer and Head of Marketing at Compton Verney, a national museum and gallery (and registered charity) housed in a Grade I-listed Georgian mansion surrounded by 120 acres of historic parkland, landscaped by Capability Brown. 

Sam has 15 years’ experience of working in Arts Marketing.  Prior to joining Compton Verney, Sam worked for a regional theatre and an Arts Marketing agency in the East of England.  She was a key part of the team that launched Compton Verney in 2004, and her work since then has enabled Compton Verney to develop audiences – resulting in a 70% increase in visitor numbers.


Boston has a very varied cultural offer and is a centre of learning.  Sam travelled to Boston to find out how large independent cultural organisations and their leaders have built resilience within themselves and their institutions despite a highly competitive market place and a world that is ever changing.

Visiting the Museum of Fine Art

The MFA has been around since 1870 and is one of the oldest museums in America and one of the largest privately funded museums in the world.  It moved to its current location on the outskirts of the city in the institutional area of Longwood in 1909.  It has 1.1 million visitors a year and reaches another 135,196 through its education and public programmes.

Key learning about the MFA’s resilience:

Strong leadership is vital

  • Be prepared to ‘shake things up’ and swim against the tide
  • Small changes can make a big difference
  • Think big and dare to make unpopular decisions for the right reasons
  • Believe in yourself and don’t be diverted by criticism

Support investment

  • Seek new talent from outside the sector
  • Invest in PR to raise your profile so people outside the organisation can see how significant the changes are and what you have to offer them
  • Look to the future and seek out new models of working and funding before the old ones no longer work
  • Think long term

People are important

  • Getting the right people in the right positions is crucial
  • Motivation is key.  Be clear about your vision, what you want them to achieve and make them accountable for their actions.  
  • Trust them, empower them and equip them to do their best.

Get your culture right

  • Know your purpose, share it and communicate it
  • Build trust internally and externally
  • It starts from the top
  • Actively seek new opportunities and experiment “...there aren’t mistakes, there are only steps forward" 

Build flexible and robust systems

  • I.T. is important for helping you build an infrastructure which is extensive and connected
  • Making sense of big data can be a challenge!

Balance and agility are essential

  • Popular supports the more challenging
  • Commercial income supports mission
  • Always leave gaps to enable you to respond to trends in the wider world

Be a thought leader

  • Look outward, tread new ground and use whatever data intelligence you have to make informed decisions
  • Know your audiences

Partnerships are powerful

  • Embed yourself in your local community and support their needs
  • Be a good neighbour
  • Work with existing community groups