Each week I spend 10 minutes with someone from the cultural-sector-meets-digital and ask them about their career, opinions, and what’s on their radar.
This week I spoke with “that museum guy” Alec Ward.
Alec Ward, Museum Development Officer Digital & Communications at Museum of London
Say “yes” to opportunities and worry about doing the thing later (within reason).
☕ Tea or coffee?
I’m actually having a Minestrone Cup-A-Soup in a tea mug – it’s a good way of hiding the fact that you’re having lunch during meetings.
💼 About your career and where you are now: accidental or intentional?
When I left university, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and recruitment seemed alluring at first. I was fortunate to have some time to volunteer at a (very) small museum (The Museum of the Order of St John) in London. A few months later, a paid museum part-time position came up (Museum Assistant). There was real flexibility in terms of tasks and I was able to explore different parts of working in a museum (collections, exhibitions, etc.). When I started there in 2015, there was no social media presence, so I took care of these and became the “digital guy” in the team. So when anything digital came up, I was the go-to person (I got to help out on a project where we digitised a WW1 scrapbook, which was really cool!).
Then, the job at the London Museum Development as the Museum Development Officer came up. My manager Tom thought I should go for it as I would be very good at it. At the time I hadn’t really thought about supporting museums, I’d always thought about working IN museums as opposed to working WITH museums.
📚 Describe your current job
The role developed over the years and became full-time. Now I manage the team’s communications, the social, the website, and the core of my role is supporting London’s non-national museums with their digital work, and helping particularly small museums on anything from social media to digital strategy.
It’s a varied role with a lot of moving parts: I help with national projects like One by One (a digital literacy and skills project), sector support organisations like Culture24, or the Collections Trust.
I always thought of my dream job as working in a museum, but before I had the experience of working in a small museum, I didn’t really know what you can do in a museum. The idea of “museum work” was “a curator”, but I hadn’t really thought about what that is or what it might entail. Working in a museum gave me the perspective of what museums professionals do, and especially for small museums where you can be the Collections Manager, Volunteer Manager and Social Media Manager.
Small museums and museums professionals need a variety and range of skills to be able to function in their roles, which is why I thoroughly enjoy what I do!
🤩 What are you working on right now that you’re particularly enjoying?
The role is super varied so I can’t even put my finger on something specific!
In March 2020 because of the pandemic, we launched a YouTube channel for the team, because we moved our development programmes online, and we had the opportunity to record some Zoom training sessions. Because I run practical sessions on everything from video editing to making 3D models from photogrammetry, I managed to turn these into small tutorials, which I’m quite proud of and pleased that they are doing well.
📣 What’s happening in the industry that’s on your radar?
Lots! My role requires me to keep in tune with everything going on in the sector, particularly with a digital focus. The Digital Culture Compass is a really exciting tool and all the work that has been done by the National Lottery Heritage Fund too, like the Digital Skills for Heritage programme.
Also, there are some resources being developed, the Digital Culture Network tech champions (Arts Council) is doing some exciting work.
Some organisations in the sector are also doing great work, like Culture24 have got the great Let’s Get Real project which is happening at the moment with a lot of museums, and looking at digital audiences.
Outside of digital, there are lots of things happening around diversity, Black Lives Matter, museums thinking more about their impact on the environment, climate change, global warming, and how to inform the public about it.
📖 Anything you’d recommend to read/watch/listen to?
I have just started reading Digital Transformation by Lindsay Herbert, which I would definitely recommend. It’s about digital transformation within organisations, with thoughts and insights about that space.
I mostly get information through newsletters: Chris Unitt’s Cultural Digital, Katie Moffat’s Digital Snapshot, Maxwell Museums (which is focused on museums & heritage). Outside of the heritage sector, I also receive the MIT Technology Review newsletter.
💡 What advice would you give someone who would like to do what you do?
For somebody who wants to work in digital in museums, my advice would be to look outside of the sector: don’t focus just on what museums are doing, look at heritage as a whole and even outside of that sector as well. There are many companies doing very interesting things in digital and there is a lot we can learn from them.
I live by the maxim “Saying yes to opportunities and worrying about doing those things later (within reason)”: for instance a few years ago, the MA asked me to chair their digital event, and I had never done that before, so naturally I was terrified! But I thought it would be a great opportunity for me, and I worried about the practicalities of doing later. So far it’s worked pretty well for me to live by that saying!