Spring 2004 Issue 46
Restructuring of the Department
In October the Department underwent a restructuring process. This was in response to changing work practices in the Museum and the need to find more flexible ways of using staff, space and other resources within the Department.
The V&A has ambitious plans to improve access to the collections and increase overall gallery space at the South Kensington site and the Branch Museums.Maximising public areas in the V&A will reduce the overall departmental footprint.
Containing the Museum’s running costs within the ever-diminishing (in real terms) grant in aid (GIA) is a challenge. Salaries take up the majority of the GIA, and the Museum is, wherever possible, streamlining the core complement and looking for more flexible ways to supplement permanent staff. As in so many national museums, external funding now finances major projects such as gallery refurbishments, and core conservation expertise is supplemented with short term, project related contracts.
Over the past two years the museum structure has been reconfigured, combining small departments into larger units, resulting in more efficient management and more effective use of resources. Curatorial departments have been amalgamated and the Collections Services Division (of which the Conservation Department is a part) has been formed.
The restructured Department has three large conservation sections: Textiles, Furniture and Frames (TFF); Sculpture, Metals, Ceramics and Glass (SMCG); Paper, Books and Paintings (PBP). The combinations partly reflect shared conservation practice and also reflect amalgamation of the material-based curatorial departments.
The three Section Heads, together with the Head of Science, form the new Senior Management Team (SMT). Conservation Administration and the RCA/V&A Conservation Course remain key areas of departmental activity and are represented on the SMT by the Head of Department. The SMT will take a strategic overview of the activities in the Department. They will take leading roles in communicating with other parts of the Museum and the Division. They will prioritise and lead areas of departmental activity which deliver key museum objectives, such as education, access and research, as well as managing their sections and professionally developing staff. Delivering the ambitious public programme of the V&A with a reduced staff complement will be a challenge, and the team needs to identify ways of creating a more flexible workforce.
A review of space has been undertaken across the Department in response to the Museum’s need for more efficient use of non-public areas. Common process and shared practice has been identified within (and across) sections and this has enabled an effective rationalisation of space. The frames and gilding sections will be combined in the furniture conservation studio and paintings conservation will join the book and paper studios during 2004. Drawing together the staff of SMCG is expected to occur in the longer term, as funding becomes available.
The structural change is just the beginning of the process, reviewing traditional work practices and identifying alternative approaches is now underway. The next steps are to look at the activities in the Department, to identify best practice from within the former sections and ensure that this is adopted within the new structure whilst also looking at ways to simplify and streamline departmental roles and communication.
Practising conservators, scientists and the administrative staff can identify changes that will make the process smoother, more efficient and effective. Involving them in this change process is therefore essential to its success, not only in terms of responding to increasing and conflicting demands on our time, but also for maintaining our departmental reputation and standards. A departmental away day in December has begun to explore these issues in more detail.