The 2002 Conference

The UMAC 2002 Conference was held in Sydney and Canberra in Australia from Sunday 29 September - Friday 4 October 2002.

The title and theme of the conference was: Exposing and Exploiting the Distinct Character of University Museums and Collections.

Reflections on Leadership in University Museums and General museums

Ing-Marie Munktell


During my 18 years working in different museums in Sweden I had the opportunity to meet some enthusiastic and real good, networking museum leaders. They had all in common a desire to meet people from all levels of the community. They also had a profound insight in how important networking is for the success and development of the museum. After 2.5 years as Director of the University museum in Uppsala, Museum Gustavianum, I have met enthusiastic university-museum leaders working hard, but with other premises, sometimes in benefit of the museum, sometimes not. Through interviews with 4 experienced museum leaders (2 from each side) looking upon "Advocacy and Leadership" I hope to raise a fruitful discussion about how we shall develop the best sides of leadership.

Almost three years ago, I learned that the job as head of the University Museum in Uppsala was mine! I knew that the museum was newly established, inaugurated in June 1997, and was situated in the beautiful university building called Gustavianum, from the 17th century, with the fantastic Anatomical Theater at the top. This was a dream job for me, at a museum that would be a window to the world for the activities of the university, both historical, through its collections with roots in the Middle Ages, and current, through exhibitions of the university of today, with its prize-winning research and world reputation. I knew there were other museums involved (the Museum of Evolution, the Botanical Garden, the University Library’s Cultural Heritage Collection, the Museum of Medical History) but I didn’t know very much about them yet.

What a challenge this job would be! Full of enthusiasm, I saw before me a well-profiled and coordinated museum program for the entire university, for the benefit of researchers, students, and the public alike! Even before I assumed the position, I prepared a proposal for a joint profiling and marketing of the museums. Since I saw myself as sitting on a huge treasure chest filled with knowledge, I felt an enormous optimism! As a researcher (historian of the Middle Ages) with a great interest in popular education and a great desire to relay knowledge, I fit in perfectly! I also had almost 20 years of experience of managing museums outside the university, of which 3 years were devoted to major cultural and historical projects like Stockholm’s year as Cultural Capital in 1998 and the City of Stockholm’s Millenium Celebration. My museum years in the 80s were spent in the relatively small Swedish town of Motala, working at the Canal and Maritime Museum, while in the 90s I was the head of the Art Museum in Uppsala and then section manager at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm.

Meeting the university museum world

Fairly soon I discovered that the world of the university museum was different, for better or for worse. My first insight into these differences had to do with the financial conditions. Here, there was stiff competition for funds! During my first meeting with the president of the university, he made it perfectly clear that the university didn’t have the resources to maintain museums! "We can’t afford museums. The mission of the University is research and education…" The so-called Third Mission, to relate information to the public about what the University does, seemed to have been given very low priority.

As I left that meeting, I wondered how I could convince the university management of the strategic gains it could win in relation to the surrounding world if it would spend money on museums. At my previous jobs there had been competition between the "care" and the "exhibit" section for funding, but in the end a good balance was usually found. Above all, the economic resources (even if they were meager) were specially earmarked for museum activities. Funds came from the Ministry of Culture and the duties of the museum were outlined in cultural-political goal documents. Now I sorted under the Department of Education, where there was no money for cultural heritage…

I realized I had to convince not just my public but also my superiors of the fantastic "treasures" owned and cared for by our university museums! I had never had to convince my own bosses before….


Capture the public

One thing I learned while working on major cultural projects in Stockholm is that "a good story told well" gets you an audience and pays well, but it has to be something that interests a large number of people. For the temporary exhibits program, I decided to go to the present and look inwards, to the university’s collections and contemporary research. The exhibit "Cats, cats…" is an example of this. Every third household in Sweden has a cat and there are abundant cat societies and cat clubs that capture the interests of many people. In working with other groups, we gain access to broad public channels. In our collections we have mummy cats, cat fossils, cat skeletons that show evolutionary processes, cats in art, ongoing research about cat diseases…

Developing the educational program around existing "Highlights" was another important strategy, using for example the Augsburg Art Cabinet with it´s 1000 objects — the 17th century internet.

Convince the management

Increase visibility

To get support for the museums from the university leadership, I realized that what needed to be done was to show economic profitability, and that to get profitability we would need to make the "splendor" of the collections visible. For this reason, I worked hard to set up a joint marketing plan for the museums and intensified the work of attracting the general public. Several cooperative projects to improve visibility were started: a new museum portal on the Net, a project called "Virtual visits to Treasures of Uppsala University," together with the Uppsala University Library, and not least the "Experience Uppsala University" project that, among other things, included training of students to become "certified university guides". Another way to increase visibility was to take part in the project "Academic Heritage and Universities," where 12 of the oldest universities in Europe worked together for the mutual benefit of the cultural heritage important to all of Europe.

Increase external pressure

By building up a network with the tourism and business representatives in Uppsala and by active participation in the work of developing "the Uppsala image."

By building up active reference pools and linking them to the museum. One of these is the Teachers Pool, with teachers from all levels of primary and secondary schools. Another resource that proved to be important is our Seniors Pool, whose members have helped us deal with the university leadership and have also acted as active ambassadors for the museum towards the general public. The pool consists of retired professors from all the disciplines of the university.

Complete knowledge within reach

The almost immediate positive experience for me was, just as I had imagined, the closeness I felt to knowledge and research in vital social areas. Being able to "download" the latest findings within various fields of research was incredibly satisfying. The pride I have felt in being able to further develop the reputation and trademark of Uppsala University has also been important in my work.

The most conspicuous difference in my new position as head, compared with earlier positions, has been the absence of clear-cut staff positions. Above all, we are lacking someone to be the information and marketing coordinator and someone in charge of exhibit activities. The public side, too, including the gift shop and guided tours, etc., is weak in terms of professional training. Other museums are better equipped in these areas.

How’s it going?

Now, when a few years have passed, we have a joint marketing and communications plan for the museums and the public side of our activities is gradually being strengthened. For Museum Gustavianum a new organizational plan is beginning to function and proceeds from the public side are steadily increasing — in just two years, proceeds from the shop, guided tours, and entrance fees are up 25%! Yes, we are capturing the public! Last year 45 000 visitors found their way to Museum Gustavianum and our five universitymuseums together had 90 000 visitors. Are we convincing the university management? Not yet, but we are hopeful……

Keys of success — which are they?

This summer I made some interviews with former collegues and some of my present collegues. After questions about age, education, title, extent of position, institutions, number of employees etc, I asked : Name three factors that have been keys to success in your job as director (personal characteristics and /or external factors); Where do you find support as director? a) own staff, b) collegues in comparable institutions, c) external networks; Do you get support from above, i.e. from an authority or department with comprehensive responsibility for your activities?; Which networks have you received the most benefit from in your leadership a) colleague network (within your own sector) or b) other networks?; Have you applied / would you like to be director? If yes, give reasons.

(Have a close look upon my overview! There are some interesting answers!)

Among my colleagues in the university I have some truly burning souls, including Professor John Peel (JP) and head curator Viveca Halldin Norberg (VHN).

Professor Peel came up with the idea of joining the three departments of paleontology, zoology and botany into a Museum of Evolution. Without arranging any formal decrease in his hours as a professor, he has put his soul into working at the museum. According to John Peel, our expanding collaboration means a lot to him. His great vision "The Museum of Evolution": 5 Billion Years of Development, was met in the beginning by enthusiastic support from both leadership and personnel. As for himself, he says he enjoys the innovative aspect and challenge of the museum. Slowly but surely the economic resources have forced down the level of ambition as regards the public. Networks of collegues and unions have been a great support, as well as contacts with the directors of the university collections. John Peel is torn between his two worlds and realizes that in the long run he has to choose: researcher or museumdirector.

Viveca Halldin Norberg (VHN) burns fervently for her cultural heritage section, but she can’t be sure she will stay on, since the responsibility shifts from librarian to librarian. She calls herself both "cocky" and "humble." She finds her greatest support in women´s networks. She has a strong will to be a leader and comments on leadership at the university in this way, "The department chair is often to the person who doesn´t have the energy to say no." In other words, leadership is not seen as important to one´s career. Working in non-profit organizations has given her extra strength and selfconfidence. People are the most important factor.

During my years in Stockholm I met some successful museum directors. One of them, Ulf Erik Hagberg (UEH), was my boss at the Museum of National Antiquities. With brilliant social skills, deep knowledge, and an admirable supply of courage, he managed to bring about the building of the so-called Gold Room (50 kilos of prehistoric gold in an underground room), an investment of almost 40 million SEK. He emphasizes the importance of being a bit of a daredevil and testing boundaries and trying to reach a wide public with unconventional methods and ventures. UEH feels that popularization is important. and he has worked hard to get support from the business community and the other surrounding community and he is used to the idéa of sponsors.

Nanna Hermansson (NH) came to the City Museum of Stockholm at a time when funding was being cut back. Many staff members who had been at the museum "forever" had to be made obsolete. She managed to create a well-functioning museum under very tough circumstances. NH is driven by a strong desire to "be beneficial" and takes her civic mission seriously. Both for UEH and NH a group of museum directors of the largest museums in Stockholm has been of great support. Now when she is retired NH says that "it would have been helpful if I had taken a course in leadership at an early point in my career"

Desirée Edmar (DE) came to the museum world from the Department side, when she was asked and accepted to take on the enormous job of heading the National Museum of Natural History, which in Sweden has a significant responsibility in terms of research. Desirée is a symbol of the middle position between the two worlds of museums. her leadership skills are characterized by her commitment and strong will to develop her co-workers´skills. Like her collegues above she emphasizes the importance of leadership networks, especially those consisting of only women, to help female directors.


Those I interviewed were all between 54 and 70 years old and had long experience of leading positions in the museum world. All of them could be called "burning souls" with considerable competence in their specific fields. Their size of staff was between 10 — 200 employees, the leaders of universitymuseums managed around 15 employees.

The similarities are greater than the differences when it comes to the exercise of leadership and management in both museum "worlds."

The similarities are above all the desire / motivation to be a director as an opportunity for creativity. Especially the women directors pointed out the important role their co-workers play in the success of the museum’s activities. Leadership training would be useful, according to the women directors.

Colleague networks seem to be available to everyone interviewed. There may be a tendency among Stockholm’s museum directors to have better connection with the surrounding community in their networks. All of the interviewees, almost without exception, had weak support from "above".

The differences manifest themselves above all in terms of the scope of the different positions and in terms of economic resources. There is very little time for the university to work actively with museums, and the individual departments are seldom interested in working with the public. The competition for funds is also a striking aspect of the university museum world.


A good director in both "museumworlds"

  • Has solid knowledge of the museum’s fields of responsibility
  • Has enthusiasm and a strong will to lead and mediate
  • Dares to think differently (spectacularly) to attract the public
  • Sees people/co-workers as the most important resource
  • Has the ability to network with the surrounding community

Ing-Marie Munktell

PhD, Director of Museum Gustavianum, Uppsala University Museum

20 Sep 2002

Reflections on Leadership in University Museums and General Museums


1 Name

2 Age

3 Education, major, title, extent of position (full-time, part-time)

4 Leadership: a) institutions b) number of years in leading position c) number of employees

5 Name three factors that have been keys to success in your job as director (personal characteristics and/or external factors)

6 Where do you find support as director? From a) your own staff (or have they been opposed to you) b) colleagues in comparable institutions c) other external networks

7 Do you get support from above, i.e., from an authority, agency, or department with the comprehensive responsibility for your activities?

8 Which networks have you received the most benefit from in your leadership a) colleague network (within your own sector) or b) other networks?

9 Have you applied / would you like to be a director? If yes, give your reasons

Copyright © Ing-Marie Munktell 2002.
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