Jewish Museum London appoints Frances Jeens as interim director

Jonathan Knott, 18.05.2020
Redundancies planned as museum pauses exhibitions to focus on online work
The Jewish Museum London has appointed Frances Jeens, previously the institution’s director of learning and engagement, as interim director. 

The move forms part of plans to pause exhibitions and refocus the museum’s work online, as the impact of the coronavirus crisis adds to pre-existing financial challenges. 

The previous director, Abigail Morris, stood down in February as the museum announced it was withdrawing from Arts Council England’s (ACE) national portfolio to develop a new business model.

As an NPO, the institution was in line to receive £220,000 a year between 2018 and 2022. Under a tailored agreement reached with the arts council in February, it has now received this amount in its entirety, plus an additional £100,000 for consultants to support future planning.

In April this year, the museum received a further grant of £195,000 from ACE for an interim business model focusing on education during the closure of its physical site due to Covid-19.

The museum plans to expand its education programme, which reaches more than 20,000 students a year. This will include launching virtual classrooms and offering continuing professional development and wellbeing activities to teachers.

The exhibitions programme will be “temporarily paused”.

The museum also intends to make “a number of redundancies”, saying this is “to put the organisation on a more sustainable financial footing, and due to the added pressure caused by the Covid-19 pandemic".

Jeens has worked in the institution’s learning department for seven years. During that time, the museum saw school visits to its building triple and won a Sandford Award, which recognises high quality in heritage education.

The changes will also see David Young step down as chair of the museum after 10 years. Treasurer Tanya Persey will serve as interim chair until a successor is appointed. 

Jeens said: “The museum was already preparing a new direction to make the organisation more financially sustainable. In choosing to refocus the work of the museum on the communities we serve, we have had to make the difficult decision to restructure the organisation, and to make some redundancies. 

“It is a great regret that we cannot retain all our talented staff to deliver the next phase. We continue to seek creative ways in these challenging circumstances to continue our mission, and while the museum building will remain closed for the foreseeable future in line with both government advice and changing audience needs, the museum’s virtual doors remain open.

"I am grateful to the board of trustees for their trust in me to continue and progress our work across communities.” 

Persey added: “The trustees of Jewish Museum London believe that the new engagement model for the museum, with a greater focus on the learning and engagement programmes, is the best response to the current situation, and will provide the foundation for a resilient and sustainable organisation in the future. 
 
“As we move to the next phase for the museum as a digital space, I am pleased to announce that Frances Jeens is our interim director. Her track record as senior leadership in the role of director of learning and engagement, combined with her digital technical expertise and fundraising and networking skills, will be essential for the museum at this time.”

Update: The article was edited on 19.05.2020 to clarify that Jewish Museum London's NPO grant is no longer being received on an annual schedule and that it received a further ACE grant of £195,000 in April 2020.

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