Interviews & articles

Hilary Jennings - Governance Now 2020 Speaker Interview

By Cultural Governance Alliance

This year’s Governance Now conference is all about how to anticipate and plan for the worst whilst delivering the best for your organisation.

In the run up, we caught up with Hilary Jennings – Director of the Happy Museum Project - to hear her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of ‘good governance’.

Hilary Jennings

Tell us about your first governance role. How did you learn the ropes?

My first formal governance role was on the board of Audiences London. I brought experience (both good and bad!) from administering Boards in a range of organisations so it was timely to find myself on the other side of the governance relationship. I was lucky that my first Trustee role was on a well-managed and effective Board – a good place to learn.

What advice would you give prospective trustees/(or chairs) in the cultural sector?

Consider your legacy, not just your current role. What changes will be needed to ensure that the cultural sector adapts and thrives – how can you help effect those changes in your organisation and your role.

What governance challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?

I am co-chair of the international Transition Network - which supports an international movement of self-organising groups working to create community-led change for a sustainable and just future founded on wellbeing. In 2018 we began a shift to shared governance. Whilst trustees retain responsibility for ensuring that the charity is complying with the law, managing its finances well and acting in accordance with its charitable objectives – we review our organisational purpose and areas of focus together with staff in a primary circle. Working through this significant shift in governance has been a fascinating and challenging process.

What three words best describe the qualities that are needed in trustees?

Passionate, dispassionate, engaged.

What are the biggest governance challenges and opportunities as the sector responds to Covid-19 and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?

Covid-19 has shown we are capable of huge and rapid change in all aspects of our lives – in the midst of the challenges it has thrown up it is important not to miss the opportunity presented by this moment of flux. A genuine and systemic response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement is long overdue.

What’s the greatest opportunity that sector-wide good governance might bring?

A thriving, relevant and representative cultural sector.

How has cultural governance changed in the last 10 years?

Supported by a range of programmes from organisations like the Cultural Leadership Programme, Clore Leadership, the Museums Association and others, there has been an on going process of learning and improvement in sector governance.

What can we learn from other sectors - in the UK and internationally - about good governance?

I’m particularly interested in shared governance and how such models could help support adaptability and resilience in cultural institutions by harnessing the knowledge, experience and agency of the full diversity of the sector.

How do you see the governance of culture evolving over the next 10 years, particularly with the civic role of the arts and the climate crisis in mind?

It is essential that we engage the broadest diversity of our communities in tackling the climate crisis and cultural institutions have a key role to play as places for story-telling, exploration, imagination, discussion, learning and debate. Stepping up to this civic role is the challenge of our times and the diversity and energy of our governance will lie at its heart.

We hope you’ll join Hilary and a host of other fantastic speakers at Governance Now 2020 — the flagship conference for culture sector trustees and professionals.

Governance Now takes place online from 5 November to 26 November 2020. Book tickets here.

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