Emma Chaplin

Helping Heritage Organisations Prosper: Q&A with AIM’s new director Emma Chaplin

Emma Chaplin was talking to M+H Advisor editor, Adrian Murphy

This week Emma Chaplin was named the new director of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM). With more than 20 years of experience working with independent museums through various roles, she is now keen to build on the success of her predecessor, Tamalie Newbery, in her new role, which begins in February

AIM has helped hundreds of independent museums develop and grow since it was established in 1977 and offers a network for them to share ideas as well as providing detailed success guides and Hallmarks of Prospering Museums

What are some of the key responsibilities you will have as AIM director?

My primary responsibility will always be to ensure that AIM is fulfilling its core purpose, “helping heritage organisations prosper”

This can’t happen without the Director working closely with our Chair, Richard Evans, our Council members and leading the excellent staff team

At the centre of the role is delivering our strategic plan, working with partners across the UK to ensure that our members and the people who work in them can prosper.

I will also be busy making sure that AIM continues to be a strong voice for independent museums with policy making bodies. 

Many independent museums are flourishing at the moment but the challenge is to keep planning for the future

Emma Chaplin, new AIM Director

How will your past experience in the sector prepare you for the challenges ahead?

My knowledge is based on wide practical experience of working in and with independent museums for over 20 years. This has given me a great insight into the variety of the independent sector, its strengths and the challenges it faces.

I worked as the Keeper of Collections at The Boat Museum in Ellesmere Port (now the National Waterways Museum) in the mid-late 1990s and in local authority museum roles in Flintshire and Cheshire where I worked in close partnership with the independent museums in the counties.

In my consultancy role I have regularly worked with Museum Development providers to support independents museums, for example in developing their volunteers or reviewing their collections and I have also worked regularly with larger independents such as Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the National Motor Museum and wider heritage organisations such as the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and the Methodist Church.

I have also been the Accreditation Adviser for museums in the North East of England for the past six years. This has been an excellent role for understanding what is happening on the ground in a wide variety of museums.

This is not to say that I don’t still have a lot to learn and as I start in my new role I am looking forward to meeting museums in areas of the UK that I don’t know so well and continuing to develop my knowledge.

What has been your past relationship with AIM and why did this role attract you?

I have been an AIM member since I worked at the Boat Museum. I was an avid reader of the Bulletin to get the news from the sector and, as a new museum professional, I often turned to the AIM Focus Papers (it was the days before the website and before the Focus Papers became Success Guides) for practical advice.

I was an AIM Council member from 2003-2014. This was fantastic both in terms of seeing the organisation develop and grow and also for my own professional development. I couldn’t begin to count the number of inspirational ideas and contacts that I have gained from Council members and AIM Conference over the years!

When the role of Director was advertised it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put my skills and experience to good use and to build on AIM’s success of recent years as it embarks on an ambitious next chapter.

It’s early on but what will you be hoping to achieve in your position as director of AIM?

In the first instance there’s plenty of exciting ongoing work. There’s our new publication “Preparing to Prosper” that is being launched at events over the next couple of months, showcasing the best ideas from museums who have been following our Hallmarks programme and the “Diversifying Museum Visitors” programme that we have been working on with a range of sector partners.

Beyond that my main aim is to build on the excellent work of my predecessor, Tamalie Newbery, and ensure that AIM continues to develop and prosper so that our members can do the same.

What do you think some of the challenges, concerns and/or requirements are for independent museums now and in the immediate future?

Many independent museums are flourishing at the moment but the challenge is to keep planning for the future and ensuring your sustainability, whether that is through reviewing your governance model, the need to recruit new Trustees, building your audiences or developing your visitor experience.

On a practical level there’s always the need to prepared for new legislation such as the new General Protection Data Regulation (GPDR).

The good news is that AIM has just published a new success guide to help independent museums with this!

AIM’s Preparing to Prosper events will take place at the following locations: London: 6 December 2017, Birmingham: 17 January 2018 and Edinburgh: 30 January 2018.