Museums as places for who? And what?


A visitor’s “museum” mindmap

For my first (real) post of 2017 I have been keenly following the turn of events across the globe, and while I’m not making any political statements, I wanted to capture some of the discussions around what roles should museums play in this strange new world. Are we activists? Fact providers / checkers? Sites of neutrality? Places for comfort and safety? Welcoming to all, or catering to the well-educated and already well-disposed? Places for debate? Great places for visitors to satisfy their curiosity and engage with content on their own terms? Or all of the above?

It has long been recognised that museums are political places – the very nature of their collections, their funding models or the audiences they serve all combine to project their values to the world, usually captured within their goals, values and mission statements (and sometimes not – often what’s left unsaid makes the loudest statement…)

So, having participated just today in a very interesting #museumhour tweet chat (thanks to the UK Museums Association folks for this), tooling around the web (and particularly my Facebook feed) I feel the best contribution I can make is to gather some resources that I think will help us inform discussions and form responses below. If you have any more please feel free to add in the comments.

Plus a few from the vaults:

And, a final word from my Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums co-editor Dr Fiona Cameron, which I think resonates today:

The curator [or museum professional] no longer desires the status of remote, knowledgeable autodidact but increasingly wants to be regarded as an imaginative, ‘cluey’ and approachable communicator: someone who can engage in meaningful and insightful ways with both the historical and contemporary scene. There is also a strong need to delve beneath surfaces, to overturn comfortable mythologies, to supply contextual depth to popular phenomena understood superficially, to decode and trace genealogies of signs to their root, to restore marginalised voices to contemporary debates and with this, to create contemplative environments for the taboo, hot topic or contentious subject, to be inspected at close quarters. (Cameron, 2010, p.22).

Oh, another final word – the #dayoffacts Twitter event to be held on February 17 is one way those of us working in the sector can participate, even in a small way, and I encourage you to follow along – more on the event is on their website.

We certainly are living interesting times!

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