DSM: A group for leaders in smaller institutions
The Directors of Smaller Museums Group was established to help those in positions of leadership in small to mid-size organisations and institution have contact with others in the same position and to help each other to help themselves. Membership is for those who are in paid positions of leadership in organisations with smaller numbers of staff, or even no staff at all. The grouping is very diverse, ranging from “lone rangers” working with volunteer-based organisations to directors of local authority museums or galleries with a mix of fulltime and part-time staff.
What we all have in common is the varied nature of our roles, usually much more so than in larger organisations. Generally, you know you’re in the DSM club if you end up doing two or more tasks during a day that would be handled by two different roles or even departments in a larger museum. We can find ourselves being leaders, managers, media spokespersons, curators, exhibition or programme designers, educators, event co-ordinators, staff and volunteer cheerleaders, and so much more. And then there’s self-leadership. The diversity of roles we have to carry out can be both stimulating and at times frustrating. There is no university course or training school that can easily equip people for the opportunities and pressures that can come with this sort of role.
The DSM Group is informal and has operated for a number of years, but taken on a new lease of life with the advent of Zoom, enabling regular contact through MA-hosted Zui. Previously we had maintained contact through regular sessions at annual MA conferences, holding our own one-day meetings and seminars, maintaining group email lists and setting up a LinkedIn group. When the first COVID lockdown occurred in March last year, we were approached by then MA CE Philippa Tocker and encouraged to establish regular Zui through the MA Zoom account. This proved incredibly helpful, with participants relishing the opportunity to meet online, share issues and successes, discuss common problems and generally get a sense of wellbeing from contact with others in the same boat.
We have continued to have Zui, either as regular catch ups or more focused on specific topics, such as funding, fire arms licence changes for museums, and the need for a new MA Board earlier this year. My observation is that DSM Group members are an important part of the New Zealand museum sector ecosystem, with over 70 organisations on our list. Member organisations have wide community reach that includes links to local voluntary heritage and arts organisations, councils, schools and a wide range of key individuals and groups within our communities. Leadership at this level will always be both challenging and exciting. By enabling contact, networking, sharing and collegial support, we hope that the DSM Group will continue to play a helpful role in supporting those lucky enough to be leaders in this part of the sector.
South Canterbury Museum