AIM Conference Speaker Spotlight: David Gilbert

Each year, AIM National Conference hosts an impressive line-up of speakers and heritage experts who give talks and lead breakout sessions on a wide variety of topics that are relevant to independent museums. This year’s conference – which runs June 18 – 20 at ss Great Britain in Bristol – is no different, and with thirty speakers and twelve breakout sessions taking place, we have decided to highlight some of the speakers in a new series of interviews over the coming weeks to help give you a taste of what to expect this year.

First to take his place under the spotlight is David Gilbert, Chairman of Creative United, a Community Interest Company that provides a range of financial products and services designed to enable the growth and development of the UK’s cultural and creative industries. Over the years, David has enjoyed a highly successful career in retail both in the UK and abroad, including as MD of Currys Ltd, COO of Dixons Stores Group International, MD of Waterstones Booksellers and chairing various retail businesses in Private Equity, including thought leader in the cultural sector, CultureLabel Ltd.

David will be talking at AIM Conference on the afternoon of Friday June 19 at a breakout session called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Museum Maintenance: a meditation of the art of the entrepreneur and its relevance to museums.’ He will be lending his unique outlook on entrepreneurialism and focusing his talk on approach, skills, resources, values and results and also on the application of entrepreneurial thinking to particular facets of business management in museums, including retail, multi-channel and visitor journey. David will complete his wittily titled breakout session by giving examples of income generation and alternative funding models.

AIM caught up with David by phone as he was boarding a train before travelling to a business meeting and we were immediately impressed by his eloquence, passion for the independent museum sector and holistic approach to work and collaboration.

David Gilbert

David Gilbert: One of 30 speakers at AIM National Conference 2015

AIM: Hello David, thanks so much for this interview, especially as you are about to board a train! Can you please explain why you think it is important for museums to take an entrepreneurial approach to their work?

DG: The standard answer is that museums need to be entrepreneurial to offset reduced funding from government and that they need to create new income streams, but that’s a very one dimensional attitude and I think museums have a lot more imagination than that. By spending time and acquiring new skills, museums can create new ways of being entrepreneurial. Yes… museums might need to become more effective, become leaner in how they work and think of new ways of monetising what they do, but you can’t just inject entrepreneurialism, it has to be built up from an organisation’s core values. I’m not a Zen Buddhist myself, but I do admire the Buddhist ethos and holistic approach to life and work and that’s why I have used this angle for my talk at conference.

AIM: What do you hope people will take away with them after your talk David?

DG: I hope that they will have a greater sense of pride in what they are already doing. My talk will be about commercial optimisation and not what museums are getting wrong, because they are getting it right and have been for years. My talk will match the underlying enthusiasm that people in this sector have for their work and will build on that.

AIM: Why do you think independent museums should attend this year’s conference?

DG: AIM National Conference, like any conference, will help people to network, meet up with existing friends, make new contacts and borrow from best practice. But what is special about AIM Conference is that as a sector, independent museums are facing a real moment of both opportunity and threat. Yes, we have to face up and address threats but we can also find new ways of working with each other. Museums tend to have an unshakable belief in what they do…a sense of deep pride. Museums can build on this to grow and conference will provide the backdrop for future collaboration.

AIM: David, what are you most looking forward to about AIM National conference personally?

DG: Well! I really enjoy talking about things I am passionate about and meeting people that are just as passionate as me and also meeting new people so we can find ways of collectively making a difference.

AIM: What other talks or breakout sessions interest you at conference this year?

DG: I was really attracted by the title of Jill Fenwick’s talk when I saw it advertised on the programme which is called ‘I wish I had known this when I was asked to run the shop’ and of course, I’m looking forward to hearing what Matthew Tanner (AIM Chairman) has to say too.

AIM: Thanks David for your time – is there anything else you would like to add?

DG: Just that I hope people leave conference feeling confident and proud of what they are doing and that they have a new sense of what options, opportunities, skills and funding approaches they can use in the future and that the conversations and dialogue we start at conference keep going long after conference is over. Oh! And start meditating!

David barrow

David’s interests are archaeology (but not digging), and philosophy

You can find out more about David’s work and what Creative United does HERE

Early Bird booking for AIM National Conference starts at £45 per day and closes on Friday April 17.

The conference schedule can be found on the AIM Website and will be updated regularly in the run up to conference.


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