Discovering hidden potential: A reflection on my first month at Black Country Living Museum

By Amanda Rigali on

Katy Price ProfiletdtfWe are quickly drawing to the end of the first fantastic month as Arts Fundraising Fellows. Between attending National Arts Fundraising School at the start of the month, visiting Media City in Salford last week, and spending time at my host organisation – the weeks are rapidly speeding by.

For the first time, heritage organisations have been included in this years’ Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellowship, and I am delighted to be based at Black Country Living Museum. The museum is one of the UK’s largest open air sites, which celebrates the Industrial Revolution with its large display of heritage buildings and costumed demonstrators.

There are so many wonderful things to see and do onsite, but it’s revealing how much more work is needed to expand. Jess, the assistant curator, revealed that only 10% of the Museum’s entire collection is on show to the public. I was lucky enough to tour the archives and see the beautiful collection of Edwardian and Victorian fashion. Due to the age of the garments, they are too delicate to be displayed without special lighting, which the museum lacks, so they remain in storage, hidden from the public’s view. This same story can be told from many different angles, such as the limekilns that stand forgotten, or the canal barge that desperately needs restoring.

Initially, it saddened me to think of the all this potential hidden away. Then it occurred to me – “they need to be seen, this is what I’m here for, this is how I make a change”. As fundraisers we are here to enable organisations to reveal their glorious artefacts to the world, be they museums, galleries, theatres or dance companies. It’s down to us as fundraisers to ensure that these collections/buildings/dancers have their time to shine. These are not sad situations; they are challenges waiting to be taken on. To do this you need innovative ideas to support these projects, raise the funds and make your plans a reality.

Photo via visitbirmingham.com

The Black Country Living Museum via visitbirmingham.com

As with any organisation, there are always lots of different departments to meet. I recently went to the demonstrators meeting. Every morning the costumed guides meet to get their notes for the day, and to catch up before slipping back in time to their Victorian counterparts. It was lovely to meet everyone and to bring up ideas for members only events. Many of our guides are retired, but have a wealth of experience, an abundance of enthusiasm and big ideas for the Museum’s future. What better way to generate fresh ideas, than to chat to those who epitomize the museum itself?

Hailing from an artistic background, I have my moments where I worry that my limited business knowledge may lead to struggles. I am also incredibly aware that I am my own harshest critic. One thing I am determined to get to grips with early on is it to have confidence in myself. It has been reassuring to meet previous Fellows through the programme, who shared these concerns early on and felt that they had achieved great things over the year. This year is set to be hard work, challenging, exciting and eye opening. I know I am passionate about the Museum and the arts, curious to explore new opportunities and ready for a challenge. And just like the museum, I have the potential to grow.

What do you think are our biggest challenges as fundraisers in the arts? We’d love to hear.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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