Reflections on 2020 by Stephanie Fuller

What a year 2020 has been!  I doubt any of us in January had an inkling of what was in store.   We started scenario planning in February for a possible period of closure, and were already seeing visitor numbers dropping sharply because of COVID, but just a few short weeks later in March we were in lockdown and furloughing staff.

Closure meant we immediately lost almost half of our income, and were in a very perilous financial situation.  However, thanks to some generous gifts from supporters of the museum we were able to weather the early weeks and make a plan to steer our way through.

We wanted to maintain relationships with our audience and communities, so launched a digital programme, #CreateToRelate, as well as a series of long reads for Friends of the museum.  We invented Virtual Museum Club, as our physical after school club couldn’t happen.  This had enormous take up from families and won an award from Kids In Museums as well as being used as a case study by Art Fund.  Our online shop was relaunched in the summer, and has gone on to great success, providing a very welcome new stream of income.

Unsurprisingly a large amount of my time this year has revolved around fundraising, and we were fortunate to receive Emergency Funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund which enabled us to reopen in July, and a Cultural Recovery Fund grant later in the year.  Alongside this our Friends and supporters have been enormously generous with their donations, for which we are very grateful.

One of the highlights of this year for me was installing the tillage exhibition with artist John Newling, a project which had been over two years in the gestation.  It was wonderful to get back to doing what felt more like ‘normal business’ at the museum, and working with our fantastic team of staff and freelancers to build the show.

Between July and November we welcomed over 2,000 visitors, and it was really moving to hear how much it meant to them to see art in person again.  Perhaps one of the big positives of this year has been that recognition of how important culture is to people in their lives, and how much they value it.

I can’t thank my colleagues and our Board of Trustees enough for the enormous amount of extra effort and time they have put into the museum this year.  It has made all the difference to our ability to keep operating, and indeed to find good solutions in a terrible situation.  And thank you to our visitors, Friends and community for your enthusiasm and support for what we have been doing.

Next year is certainly going to be challenging.  With the immediate emergency over, the economic and funding climate looks bleak, and we don’t know what the future holds in terms of visitors returning in viable numbers.  However, we have plans for two fantastic exhibitions, one with renowned Ditchling based illustrator John Vernon Lord, and the second looking at the influences and connections between Ditchling artists and craftspeople and Japanese potter Shoji Hamada which I hope will entertain and inspire visitors.

2020 has proved we are more flexible and resilient than we had ever imagined we would need to be, and I am optimistic that with your continued support we can weather whatever next year holds in store.

Bring on 2021!

Stephanie Fuller