Glasgow Stimulus Paper
Topic Area: Cultural Institutions as arenas for lifelong learning
Glasgow Museums/Glasgow Life: A learning institution and an agent of social change?
Glasgow Museums (GM) comprises 9 museums, including our flagship Kelvingrove, the internationally renowned Burrell Collection, the soon to open Zahah Hadid designed Riverside Museum of Travel and Transport, St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art (one of only 4 museums of religion in the world) and GoMA – the most visited contemporary art gallery outside London. We also have publicly accessible stores (archives), Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. The collection is as diverse as it is large – with 1.4 million items. These range from world class collections of fine art to one of the finest arms and armour collections in Europe to natural history, social history, costumes and textiles, transport and technology and world cultures. Over 60% of the collection is of national or international significance.
Glasgow Museums receive over 3 million visits per year. All our museums are free to visit and most are open 7 days a week. There is a long-standing local tradition of museum visiting (with about an average 2 visits per year by every citizen) with a wide social range – 40% of our visitors coming from working class backgrounds.
GM is part of a larger organization – Glasgow Life - a charitable company who manage the City’s cultural and sporting services on behalf of Glasgow City Council. 
Glasgow has a population of 600,000 and is the fourth largest city in UK and largest in Scotland. It is also home to the most ethnically diverse population in Scotland. Glasgow is currently one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the UK and now a popular tourist destination, third after London and Edinburgh. It is also a city with some of the worst statistics in Western Europe for generational worklessness, poor health and low educational attainment. Despite the recent period of relative prosperity, a third of the population is living in poverty with little hope or aspiration and the average life expectancy for men in some of the poorest areas of Glasgow is 60, 14 years less than in better off areas.
Glasgow Museum’s role in the city as an arena for lifelong learning has been shaped by its historical position as an industrial giant of the British Empire and its attempts reverse the devastating social impacts of the major industrial and economic decline it has experienced since the 1960s and 70s. The city began this process 30 years ago by building a new identity on different economic bases, bolstered by culture, creativity and innovation.
Civic ambitions and expectations: culture as an agent for social change
Many British museums were established in the Victorian era with a commitment to ‘the people’s education’. This fundamental element of the civic museum movement - learning linked with civic ideals and economic development: creating model citizens by inspiring and educating - continued and is still evident today. In Glasgow the emphasis and expectations of this role changed with the city’s need to change. Civic expectations were higher: museums should not just inspire but also contribute to social transformation; they also had to compete internationally for the tourist market in order to contribute to economic growth.
In order to be effective arenas for learning, museums themselves must be learning institutions able to adapt and change. GM had to change the way it engaged with local people. A commitment to engaging with Glasgow’s increasingly diverse population was also a driver. Through a process of institutional change and development, GM adopted an active social justice model. This was realized by investment in its cultural assets (refurbishing old and creating new museums, arts centres and concert halls) and staff with the skills to engage with people: for example, the creation of the Open Museum (outreach service) in 1990 and the Learning and Access department and Collections research team in 2002, following the city council’s best value review, which spelled out the civic expectation that investment in museums was predicated on their ability to contribute to the city’s social agendas on learning, health, urban and economic regeneration and international reputation.
The GM approach to lifelong learning
Within the museums all the galleries and displays are potentially ‘learning arenas’ for self-led exploration and discovery. The permanent learning programmes (both targeted and universal) provide additional pathways for learning and different points of entry to the museums. GM currently reaches over 200,000 people (children, families, schools, adults, community groups) annually through its learning programmes.
These have been designed strategically to meet the needs of 3 levels of participant:
- Those that require targeted and sustained assistance and development to engage
- Those that engage through a formal group
- Those that engage independently through their own motivation.
Engaging effectively with these three user levels requires a responsive balance of access, activity and programming within venues and through outreach. This level of service also requires interdisciplinary collaboration, with a balance of professional staff with audience knowledge and staff with collections knowledge – and increasingly those with both. The programmes’ success requires access to, and support from, all areas of the museums collections, processes and venues. This is because the primary and critical learning tool is the unique resource museums hold - their collections. The lifelong learning offer includes volunteer and placement opportunities – these are taken up for learning for pleasure, social experiences, skills development, professional development, work experience, experience for higher and further education courses and research at undergraduate and post graduate levels. Museums host over 350 volunteers each year.
Key success factors
Embedding the requirements for access into core displays, not relying on programmes to provide a bridge to the museums’ most basic service. The accessibility of displays is tested throughout the period of development through research with target visitor groups.
Responding to changing educational/learning methodologies has been integral: greater understanding of learning styles, learning environments and the power of objects and paintings to inspire learning
Collaborative partnerships and skills sharing with other agencies such as social workers, Teachers, care workers, youth workers, play workers, mental health providers, artists, performers etc. Sharing practice and skills enhances learning provision and staff skills in understanding diverse audiences and learning through culture.
Being part of Glasgow Life, we are strategically linked to the city’s community planning framework and objectives. Our services are measured against our impact in contributing to the learning, health, vibrancy and economic development in the city. As a learning provider we are measured through national frameworks such as HMIE and How Good is our Community Learning.
GM has extended the Museums’ ‘arena for learning’ well beyond their four walls through the Open Museum outreach service, now in its 20th year of operation. It was set up (originally in partnership with the Social Work department) to take objects to communities across the city and engage with people who traditionally wouldn’t or couldn’t visit museums. GM’s arena for learning extends to care homes, community centres, children’s centres, hospitals, libraries and prisons. The work is diverse and widespread. All of it uses collections – taking them out of the museum stores through collaborative projects, loans kits, travelling exhibitions, community museums. OM works in long term partnerships with youth workers, health workers, occupational therapists, prison staff and housing associations to enable the collections to inspire and support projects which make a difference to people’s lives and communities through the experiences, learning and skills that come from this work. Over 1,000 loans of handling kits and exhibitions are made each year to over 120 different organizations and locations.
Challenges and opportunities
New social models and economic climate means partnership is more vital than ever. E.g. The Collaborative Framework Agreement with Glasgow University, partnership with Strathclyde University Centre for Lifelong learning, partnership with City of Glasgow College (Metropolitan college) and Pathways to Wellbeing (a strategic Glasgow Life initiative working with housing associations, health services and employment agencies to connect non-users who might benefit from engagement with culture through network of referrals.)
GM, with the rest of Glasgow Life is developing an understanding of how culture contributes to health and wellbeing – the evidence suggests that regular participation in culture is a separate variable which contributes measurably to longevity. Based on this new perspective, we are developing new services and approaches, including a formal partnership arrangement with health services.
The economic climate is taking Glasgow Life and GM into restructure and review in order to meet savings. It is shaping a new strategic direction for Glasgow Museums and Glasgow Life. Lifelong Learning, capacity building and wellbeing have been identified as core functions – but the way they are delivered by the different cultural institutions within the organization will change, with a greater emphasis on integrated working and integrated staff.
In order to be effective arenas for lifelong learning, cultural institutions have to be learning institutions.
- How should we define the core functions of museums in the 21st Century if they are truly to be arenas for learning?
- How do museums/cultural institutions become effective learning institutions themselves – for their staff, key stakeholders as well as visitors and participants?
- How far can partnership go to extending the role of museums as providers of lifelong learning?
- How should Museums ensure that they represent and learn from new communities successfully to enhance their knowledge of existing collections and collect effectively into the future? Can they keep up and continue collecting to stay relevant to future generations and their learning needs?
- Can museums effectively challenge prejudice and intolerance, when they are usually seen as celebratory and consensus institutions?
Janice Lane is author of this paper. She is Learning and Access Manager with Glasgow Museums, leading one of the largest and most innovative museum learning and engagement teams in the UK. Her work with Glasgow’s nine museums and galleries has included major exhibitions and a range of innovations which have involved both traditional and new audiences and partnerships.
 Glasgow Life comprises Museums, Arts, Libraries, Sports and Events, Area Services and latterly Glasgow Concert Halls, bringing under one organization the main cultural assets and services of the city. Formally a department under the direct control of the city council Glasgow Life became an arms length charitable company in 2007.
 Mark O’Neill (Head of GM 1999 – 2009) In his discussion of museum access and museums’ core functions, analyses how this role has been interpreted and carried out by museums, and outlines 3 models of operation: the elite model, the welfare model and the social justice model. There are similarities and cross-overs between the three models, but the fundamental difference shaping the social justice model is the understanding of the complex and integral role of museums in society and the recognition that: ”…(museums are) embedded in society and have responsibilities to that society to meet its standards of justice. (This model) … recognizes the historic and contemporary links between museums and structures of power”. Integral to this model is the commitment to access by ‘the people’ - not just in the provision of a learning programme – but also in all its processes, in its physical displays and in all its communications (conscious and unconscious). In comparison, O’Neill argues that the welfare model appears very similar, in that it has audience development and learning as key parts of its programming and purpose. Although staff roles and services are in place, the essential difference lies in their place within the museum – i.e. separate to the ‘professional’ or ‘core’ services of the museum i.e. preservation and exhibition. Thus audience/learning staff are outside of the real museum power structure and also the first casualties in economic downturns. O’Neill, M: Museums Access – welfare or social justice? October 2010
 Glasgow Museums Best value Review 2001. Glasgow City Council
 HMIE – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education: Scottish national evaluation and performance agency for Education (Schools) and community learning
 : The purpose of this Agreement is to develop strategic partnership working between the two institutions in order to maximize the potential of their collections as resources for learning, research and creativity.