Keynote: Alec Coles

Keynote Address

Centres of excellence - first among equals, or the chosen few?

Alec Coles – CEO, Western Australian Museum, Perth, Australia

Day Two Thursday 14 April 10.45am-12.00pm

Venue: Theatre Royal

Prior to taking up his position in WA, Alec was Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, which occupy twelve different venues in the northeast of England. He is a staunch supporter of the public value of museums, and has a particular interest in management, planning and


Centres of excellence – first amongst equals, or the chosen few?

In many countries a hierarchy of museums and museum collections exists: national museums, regional or provincial museums and local or community museums.

In the old days, perhaps everyone knew their place(!) but today, the diversity of Museums is such that amazing collections can exist well away from our nations’ capitals and often outside the public sector.

A number of schemes have been developed to recognise the social, intellectual or heritage value of museums and their collections.  Accreditation and registration schemes have been developed as well as complex definitions of what a museum (or archive, or library) is, and what it is not.  Museums become recognised as reaching set standards and might even become recognised as centres of excellence.

In the UK, a further scheme called Designation overlays accreditation schemes for both Museums and Archives.  This scheme identifies collections of pre-eminence, but who decides on what is important?  How do we compare across disciplines, governance structures and geographic boundaries. How might this help us define a distributed national collection?  What makes these collections more important or they merely ‘first amongst equals’.

These schemes, of course, become more contentious when they are linked to funding opportunities leading to the concept of ‘the chosen few’.

Alec Coles will draw on his experience in the UK and latterly in Western 
Australia to consider some of the issues that occur when we try to determine who has the most important collections, who is responsible for them, and who decides on what is important anyway!