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richard wendorf

The Big Rethink: Richard Wendorf

Director of the American Museum & Gardens

It all happened so quickly, didn’t it? We had spent months preparing the American Museum & Gardens for its opening in mid-March. The new exhibition, on fashion and photography in the 1930s, had been handsomely mounted.

We had just won best in show in the ‘Leisure and Tourism’ category of the Bath Life Awards. We had recently been featured in two magazines, Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden. Our café had been renamed and one of its two rooms redecorated; the revised menu was ready to go. And yet, within a week of our opening, like every other cultural institution, we were completely closed.

Lockdown imposed hardships of various kinds: cancelled trips and events, extended isolation, many colleagues on furlough, a skeleton crew working hard to keep the operation safe and secure. But lockdown also posed possibilities, the opportunity for the senior management team to think about how best to position the museum in what will be an altered financial and cultural landscape. Given that it will take some time – months if not years – for travel and visitation to return to anything like its previously normal state, what will work best?

Lockdown imposed hardships of various kinds … but it also posed possibilities, the opportunity for the senior management team to think about how best to position the museum in what will be an altered financial and cultural landscape

We have been asking ourselves some fundamental questions: what do we do best, and how can we enhance those elements of our current offer? What is more peripheral to the mission and success of the museum, and can we prudently curtail or eliminate some of those activities? How will the sudden downturn and subsequent volatility in the financial markets affect our fiscal health? How will changes in the financial markets affect our development efforts? Should we alter our priorities for fundraising? How much more can we tighten our budgetary belt? Do we have the optimal organisational structure for reaching our goals?

How can we take better advantage of our views, lawns, and gardens to promote well-being? How can we ensure that we contribute fully to the life of the community, especially through the opening of our new Children’s Garden?

We have done everything we can to provide a safe, reassuring welcome to the thousands of people who are hungry for the stimulation and inspiration that museums and heritage sites provide

We have made progress in answering these questions, but we have just re-opened the museum and gardens, the pandemic is still with us, and the psychological effects will, I predict, stay with us for some time. The three Bath institutions that are now open – The Holburne, The Roman Baths, and The American Museum – have worked closely together, and we have done everything we can to provide a safe, reassuring welcome to the thousands of people who are hungry for the stimulation and inspiration that museums and heritage sites provide. I doubt that this hunger will ever fade, but we do know that international travel to Bath will suffer.

All cultural institutions are now facing uncertain futures.

It is our hope that those who support heritage and the arts will do the right thing in these straitened times. Make a visit. Become a member. Offer to volunteer. And yes, please make a financial contribution. In short, enjoy (and promote) one of the strongest cultural enclaves in the entire nation.

It is our hope that those who support heritage and the arts will do the right thing in these straitened times

americanmuseum.org

The main exhibition in Claverton Manor, the special exhibition and the museum’s gardens are now fully open.

Read more about the American Museum & Gardens from head gardener Andrew Cannell here:

See some of our other Big Rethink commentaries:

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