Clore Leadership Programme
Clore Leadership Programme
 
 

Thinking outside the museum

Catherine Eagleton on wanting to think big and aim higher

When I applied for the Clore Short Course in 2011, I was working as a curator at the British Museum. I’d always known I wanted to work in museums, but I hadn’t ever really formed a plan for what that meant in the long-term. The mere fact that the Museum was willing to support me to do the course was a real boost to my confidence. I deliberately chose the Clore course rather than a museum-specific course, because I wanted to see whether there were things I could learn from people working in other parts of the arts and culture sector. So, during the two weeks of the course, I found out about dance, public art, theatre, film, and many other areas besides, and about our shared challenges, as well as the differences between different parts of the sector. Even better, some of us formed an Action Learning set, and have carried on meeting up since the course ended, supporting each other with our wild ideas and professional challenges.

After the two weeks of the short course, I was buzzing with ideas, and keen to try out lots of new things. In the short term, the skills, energy and confidence I’d gained were immediately channelled into a large gallery redisplay project, which involved working on a scale larger than anything I’d ever attempted before. More gradually, there was a different kind of transformation taking place. I started to think about my career extending beyond museums, and I began to look more broadly at the heritage and cultural sector, at the kinds of things I wanted to be doing, and with which kinds of organisations. I knew I wanted to work internationally, with historic collections, and in a role that combined academic and research skills with projects and partnerships that engage with a wide range of audiences. For the first time, I admitted (to myself and other people) that I might want to really think big, and aim high, and see how far I can get. So, two years after the short course, when the position of Head of Asian and African Studies at the British Library came up, I silenced the voice in my head that was trying to tell me not to, and applied.
 
Now, 9 months later, I’m already looking back and realising how powerful that moment was – when I grabbed an opportunity that I might easily have let pass me by, if I’d kept to my original museum-focussed plan. I’m enjoying leading a team of 25 curators, working with internationally important collections, leading large projects, and engaging with people all over the world. It’s hard work, and is using all the skills and resilience I have, but it’s shaping up to be one of the best career decisions I’ve made.
 

 
 

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