IT was in 1990, while working on a project researching the history of Sheffield industry, that Kim Streets met the then curator of Kelham Island Museum.
“I asked if they needed any volunteers,” she says. “I’d loved visiting these kinds of places since I was a kid so it was something I wanted to do.”
Twenty-two years later she has just been appointed the new boss of Museums Sheffield.
It means the young history graduate who walked nervously in through those Kelham Island gates is now responsible for the city’s biggest art and educational attractions including Millennium Gallery, Graves Gallery, Weston Park museum and Bishops House. She gets paid these days, it should be stressed.
“It’s been quite a journey,” she says.
Indeed. And today, it has led the 44-year-old to her new Surrey Street office (spacious, airy, views of Park Hill) where she wants to discuss the future.
Make no mistake, it’s a challenging one.
Museums Sheffield, a charitable trust formed in 1998 to oversee the running of the service, has been hit by huge funding cuts.
A decision by the Arts Council to refuse £4.2 million in grants over three years – instead pouring the money into York and Leeds – means 40 workers are being made redundant and touring exhibitions are being cut.
Kim, who replaced the outgoing Nick Dodd, describes a drop in footfall as inevitable – although by how much is unclear.
But, here is what this Pitsmoor mother-of-three wants to stress: where there are challenges they will be met, where there are problems solutions will be found and, in the long run, Museums Sheffield will be better for adapting.
Oh, and, if she’s allowed to dream, she sees a world where the Graves is sympathetically modernised with more gallery space, brand new IT suite and a roof-top restaurant.
“When I joined permanently in 1991 we had no money, a small team and the prospect of year-on-year cuts,” she says. “We are in a similar position today but then, as now, we managed to do great things with the resources we had.
“What we had back then was a commitment from staff; we had a vision and together with the city we made it happen. Now we must build on that passion, creativity and knowledge again.”
Practically, she says the service will become more efficient, with other funding streams being investigated and a greater emphasis being placed on exhibiting Sheffield’s own collection of more than one million artefacts. A suite of self-guided resources are being created to ease the reduction in staff.
“We need to rediscover our own collections,” she says. “Next year, for example, is the centenary of the invention of stainless steel and that is something we will celebrate using our own collection.”
And for the future?
“Making ourselves more financially resilient is a priority,” says Kim, who is originally from Selby but moved here to study at Sheffield Polytechnic in 1986.
Long term, she has also initiated top-level discussions on making the Graves Gallery more central to what the service offers.
“When it was faced with closure last year, the people of Sheffield showed how much they loved it,” says Kim. “Now we have to prove it was worth their support.
“I would like to see more gallery space attracting more visitors and showing more contemporary art. It’s a fantastic venue. I see no reason why there couldn’t be a top-floor restaurant. We will be ambitious.”
Kim Streets: she’s come a long way from being a volunteer. Now, as the boss, she has a whole new journey ahead of her.
Exceptional exhibitions: What makes Museums Sheffield great
China: Journey to the East (Weston Park, 2011-12): Three thousand years of Chinese culture were packed into Weston Park for this offering run in partnership with the British Museum. It the Museums Sheffield’s most popular exhibition ever.
Artist Rooms: Robert Mapplethorpe (Graves Gallery, 2011-12): Featuring one of the 20th century’s iconic photographers was a coup. Getting a complementary performance by his friend, legendary punk Patti Smith, was perhaps even better.
Restless Times: Art in Britain 1914 - 1945 (Millennium Gallery, 2010-11): Featuring a mix of Sheffield’s own collection and national loans, Restless Times aimed to capture the spirit of the turbulent war and inter-war years.