The #FutureMuseum Project: What will museums be like in the future? Essay collection
What will museums be like in the future? Leading museum professionals from around the world share their ideas about the future of museums.
Join the #FutureMuseum Project and add your thoughts on the future of museums - simply email around 250-500 words direct to Gregory Chamberlain, Editor of Museum-iD magazine. The next set of contributions will be published in issue 21 of Museum-iD magazine.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: TALKING TO STRANGERS AND CHALLENGING THE SOCIAL MEDIA ECHO CHAMBER
by Rosie Stanbury, Head of Live Programmes, Wellcome Collection, London
Most of us have a natural desire to meet with like-minded people. It’s one of the reasons that lots of us work in museums, because of a shared fascination in objects, people and history. These days, we can tune-in to the things we like, and switch-off from the things we don’t more than ever before. The danger of this seductive state has revealed itself acutely this year. In the wake of Brexit and Trump we need to challenge the social media echo chamber we find ourselves in.
"We urgently need to create lots of opportunities for people from different walks of life to talk about the big stuff: Human endeavour, discovery, nature, history and the future"
We urgently need to create lots of opportunities for people from different walks of life to talk about the big stuff: Human endeavour, discovery, nature, history and the future. Museums offer the perfect space. Objects can provide provocations and can act as social levellers. Of course, there is a danger that museums are echo chambers for their own ideas and their own audiences. We need to open ourselves up to new perspectives and possibilities. As the people that run the spaces, we can seed ideas, invite in new groups with different agendas and provoke new conversations.
But these conversations need careful support and direction to grow. Skills in facilitation and education need to be nurtured and developed. We need to learn from other sectors that are developing innovative engagement techniques, from performance and education to social justice and training.
Over the last year we’ve invited our audience to propose their own ideas for events in Wellcome Collection through Open Platform. This is an invitation to create small-scale pop-up events in our Reading Room. We offer expenses and facilitation training for those that would like it. The emphasis is on participation, and we don’t advertise the events beyond our building, so the audience for the event stumbles across the activities in the building on the day. People sometimes pop in for a cup of coffee, then end up taking part in an event that lasts an hour. Events have explored a vast range of subjects from intersex and death to monkey poo and cancer. It’s been a joy to watch the programme evolve and I’m excited to see even more strangers making connections and challenging one another in the future.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: INCREASING DIVERSITY AND HELPING TO ESTABLISH A SENSE OF OWNERSHIP
by Peju Oshin - Freelance Museum Educator and Independent Curator
As we look towards the future museums will continue to provide an important place for discussion and the exchange of ideas. But the conversations museums spark in the future will be greatly improved by increasing diversity - not just of the audience but crucially the museum staff too. Doing so will add to the rich cultural fabric museums preserve and display.
Currently many museums struggle to actively engage and develop long-term relationships with audiences from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) or lower socio-economic backgrounds. This is a problem. Museums need to be representative of the communities they live in - both in terms of the stories they tell and the objects they collect.
“Helping to establish a sense of ownership - both of the museum environment and the collections - is crucial”
Museums of the future will understand that engaging such groups requires simple questions rather than over-engineered thinking. Museums need to regularly ask BAME audiences “What would you like to see?” or “What are your interests?” in order to build rapid response practices.
Asking questions and responding rapidly will help open up museums to these new and diverse audiences and will make them feel valued. It will attract additional visitors.
Helping to establish a sense of ownership - both of the museum environment and the collections - is crucial. Museums need to take regular action to collaborate with new and diverse audiences to ensure collections connect with the everyday person who doesn’t yet know they have the museum bug.
Museums have nothing to fear from this process. Rapid response practices simply serve as a tool to bridge the gap between the occasionally un-relatable and the familiar yet significant daily elements of our lives.
To ensure museums stay open and have a bright future, we must be willing to adapt and extend our understanding of our collections and exhibitions to help attract a variety of audiences - in doing so we will keep stories and ideas fresh and relatable.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: NOT JUST A BUILDING, BUT BUILDING COMMUNITY
by Amy Schaffman, Education Manager, Augusta Museum of History
Museums occupy a unique place in society. Museums offer tangible rewards, but are often misunderstood and undervalued. After all, cultural and heritage organizations cannot cure diseases, end wars, or protect their communities from impending attacks. They are often seen as exclusive places, catering to only certain segments of society. However, I would argue that this is a mischaracterization and that museums are, and will remain, important for a healthy society.
"Museums may not directly resolve the many issues plaguing humanity in the 21st century but, by providing creative and intellectual opportunities, they can play a part in the ultimate solutions"
Generally speaking, museums can be catalysts for positive changes within a community. At the Augusta Museum of History, we are dedicated to preserving, protecting, and communicating the history of the region surrounding the Savannah River. The Augusta area has been the epicenter of revolutionary battles, industrialization, and civil rights struggles. The Museum staff is committed to maintaining and expanding relationships and partnerships with the community to accomplish this mission. As an educator, I actively participate in this process by meeting with local community educators and groups and listening to their wants and needs.
Educational outreach must be a part of the future of an effective museum. The museum should become a resource for the community it serves, both inside and outside the physical building space. Part of the future of museums will involve technology: providing people the ability to examine, explore and participate using their smart devices.
Additionally, using exhibit spaces for innovative programs, such as interactive escape rooms, promotes ongoing visitor interest. The museum auditorium thus becomes a forum for the public to consider the history of its community. Schools and teachers will use the museum’s vast archives to expand the student experience and make connections to history taught in the classroom. Those with mental and physical challenges will also be able to find enrichment in the museum.
Museums must become an extension of their outside communities. Museums may not directly resolve the many issues plaguing humanity in the 21st century but, by providing creative and intellectual opportunities, they can play a part in the ultimate solutions.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: PUBLIC RESEARCH AND ENQUIRY
by Ken Arnold, Creative Director, Medical Museion and Professor at Copenhagen University
Should museums of the future prioritise collections or audiences? The problem with this well-worn debate is that it risks overshadowing a third essential aspect of their mission: namely research.
I have recently taken up the directorship of the small but vibrant Medical Museion in Copenhagen, where research is at the heart of much of what goes on. Not just focussed on its collections, the investigators it hosts also pursue interests in such diverse topics as the smell of hospitals, healthy aging and the connections between mind and gut. Collectively, they have fashioned a distinctive form of museum enquiry, one that is methodologically promiscuous, frequently multi-disciplinary and often focussed on topics that have a broad resonance: research that makes sense in public.
"The most important museums of the next half century will be those that frame their mission around a spirit of enquiry, and whose public programmes effectively turn both curators and visitors into investigators"
It is part of a university, and that no doubt helps explain its thriving inquisitive habits. But there is also something rather Danish about this too. For since at least 1958 their national Museum Act has stipulated that those supported by the government should undertake research as one of their five ‘pillars’. It is simply taken for granted then that museums are, in part, institutions whose purpose is to find things out.
So here’s my prediction, or maybe more accurately my prescriptive speculation: the most important museums of the next half century will be those that frame their mission around a spirit of enquiry, and whose public programmes effectively turn both curators and visitors into investigators of sorts. What’s more, focusing on the role of museums in ‘public research’ offers those of us with professional interests in helping shape their future a chance to get beyond the bi-focal myopia of endlessly trying to decide whether collections or audiences should come first.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: COLLABORATION AND WELLBEING
by Nadine Loach, Assistant Registrar, Leeds Museums and Galleries
In the future, museums will be built on collaborations. Collaborations between staff, museums, universities, libraries, government bodies, visitors, sponsors, donors and communities. All working to make museums more sustainable at their core.
An organisation’s culture is its identity. Strong organisational health, culture and leadership will be recognised as contributing significantly to the development of more resilient museums. Museums will be more in tune with how they function effectively; their structure, collaborations, finances, and overall shared ‘purpose’.
"Strong organisational health, culture and leadership will be recognised as contributing significantly to the development of more resilient museums"
A synergy of organisational, personal and professional development is necessary for the effective delivery of museums’ strategies. This will be understood at every level of development from sole museums professionals to government-funded institutions and independent museums trusts.
The delivery of these forms of development will be through a combined approach of talks, workshops, partner collaborations, networks, training, resources, conferences, and improved staff communication and social activities.
Future museums will ensure the wellbeing of staff and encourage their professional development. This focus on wellbeing is the key to an enthusiastic, hardworking and committed team. The benefits of which will reflect in museums as a whole.
Visitors and communities will become more integrated in museums. They will take ownership of museums’ collections and displays, playing a key part in contributing to curatorial decisions and developing new and diverse ways of sharing knowledge.
In the future, museums will be cultural networks that everyone will be a part of.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: SHARABLE EXPERIENCES AND ADDED VALUE
by Ryan Dodge, Digital Engagement Coordinator, Royal Ontario Museum
In the future museums will expand their thinking of what constitutes a visitor. With online visits to museum websites and social media accounts far outpacing physical visitation, it is time to understand that digital visitors are visitors too.
Today, the first place you have to capture someone’s attention is online and this will only increase going forward. A ticket purchase is no longer the measure of success, in the future, senior managers and boards will recognize that transformative online experiences are just as valuable as a physical ticket purchase. By providing a stellar experience from their first google search through to a robust and responsive digital engagement presence, museums will remain relevant in the future.
"In the future, museums will recognize that we can no longer attempt to tell people we are fun and interesting places to spend time, our community has to do it for us and museums need to provide and encourage those experiences onsite and online"
Museums and their leaders will also understand that their online and digital engagement presence has direct implications on their reputation, which has direct implications on their bottom line. The potential for physical visitors to share their experience online will only grow and museums will embed sharable experiences into their gallery spaces. Everybody is already a content producer. Museums will encourage and nurture the earned media that visitors are creating, allow it to happen and engage with it.
In the future, museums will recognize that we can no longer attempt to tell people we are fun and interesting places to spend time, our community has to do it for us and museums need to provide and encourage those experiences onsite and online.
Visitors are visitors, whether onsite or online, both have the potential to add value to museums and in this will be recognized and celebrated.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: AGILE, ACCESSIBLE AND DISTINCT
by Gina Koutsika, Head of National and International – Learning and Engagement, Imperial War Museums
Museums remain subject to market forces and ideological change and the landscape in which we function in the future is yet to settle to a coherent consensus. Forced change prevails as the norm and it makes for interesting times.
"The future is yet to settle to a coherent consensus - forced change prevails as the norm and it makes for interesting times"
Our museums will continue to serve, inspire and learn from and with our publics. To thrive (or even survive), we need to be truly accessible, while capitalising on our distinctiveness and developing our niche markets. All of our work has to become scalable, fundable, with measurable impacts, and able to offer audience benefits and progression. In my view, our future lies in successfully facilitating the interconnectedness of audiences within our unique offer and in being more in tune with communities, consciously contributing to the local, regional and national health and economy.
Even though we remain focused on connoisseurship and skills (engaging artists, academics, experts), our internal specialist expertise across the board is being structurally weakened and the different roles (programmer, curator, manager) are increasingly broadened and blurred. This is due to a reduced workforce, short-term contracts and project-funded posts.
Not having the luxury to develop specialist knowledge, skills and contacts, we will seek out partners within and outside our disciplines, our sectors, our communities, and even our countries. We will form informal and formal consortiums, complement each other and combine our resources towards common goals. We will successively become more agile and flexible and our practice will be led and underpinned by experience and understanding of how to blend different disciplines.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: SOCIAL IMPACT + UX + PHYGITAL
by Clare Brown, Program Head, Master of Arts in Exhibition Design, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George Washington University, and Alin Tocmacov, Experience Designer and Associate Partner at C&G Partners, New York
Social impact is the “new hotness” in which museums find their place as agents of social change. From revitalizing the neighborhoods in which they are built, to serving as forums for dialogue around the provocative issues of our time, museums are not just bystanders or “witnesses to history”, they are becoming a voice and a force in shaping the social future. Museums are looking to create emotional experiences that inspire visitors to take action. Narrative storytelling inspired methodologies like the Inzovu curve are moving visitors from empathy to compassion, to action. Emotion-driven museum experiences will not merely present the facts, but will provide opportunities and stimulate visitors to engage proactively in the world around them.
"Emotion-driven museum experiences will not merely present the facts but will provide opportunities and stimulate visitors to engage proactively in the world around them"
User eXperience design and methodology are inspiring exhibit designers to consider exhibitions as nimble platforms for information exchange and social engagement. Using the Agile approach of “minimum viable product” to create rapid prototyping on the exhibit floor, these design tests are becoming the inspiration for the final design itself. Museums are asking for changeability: flexible and update-able exhibits, that can respond to the fast pace social media savvy visitors. This will not be just a means to save on future exhibit costs, but rather a strategy to stay current and engage visitors in the creation of exhibitions as part of the social mission of the museum.
Phygital, physical + digital, is bridging the digital with the physical world. The internet of things will lead to the internet of spaces as digital technology becomes increasingly integrated into our built environments. Integration is the key term here, meaning that museums will not lose their valuable role in providing the essential analog experience of direct access to real collections. Rather, as the appeal of the analog world in a digital age continues to grow, museums will embrace their analog roots, providing unique physical and non-digital social experiences that are augmented and informed by digital applications and methodology.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: CONVERSATIONAL, FLEXIBLE AND FLUID
by Mike Sarna, Director, Collections & Public Engagement, Royal Museums Greenwich
What will museums be like in the future?
Personally something emerges out of the question - What will museums be like in the future? It about what defines "us" aka this country and/or humankind? What are we saving/sharing/promoting? Who gets to decide? Things that are disappearing? Things that are emerging? What happens when you run out of space? These aren't rocket science questions, of course, but they are questions my friend (a tour guide in Washington D.C.) gets every day - why doesn't John Adams get a memorial? And what would I need to do to "earn" one? And what do we do when "the war to end all wars" doesn't? The beauty is the answer changes year to year. So there is something about museums ability to be conversational, flexible and fluid.
So it left me thinking that museums are essentially about how we got where we are today, which is very political. Why isn't the Museum of London running an exhibition about the global financial crisis? Do they have Lehman Brothers stuff in their collection, or pics of the corporate jet from RBS? Interesting to see the Snowden laptop at V&A, what other contentious contemporary objects should we be putting on display? A museum's asset is to tell the story of the past - including the very recent past - to inform the present and help spur discussion on contemporary issues.
"What are we saving/sharing/promoting? The beauty is the answer changes year to year. There is something about museums ability to be conversational, flexible and fluid"
So, a new museum I just visited has an exhibition about the history of ship building in their area but if want to know why there is no shipbuilding in the area now, the answer is not there. Why should political questions only be discussed in the "media space"? A museum, a physical space, can provide an environment in which evidence and counter evidence can be presented, and facilitate an active and vital discussion – one more valuable than is being discussed in the media.
There is an underlying implication from this question. Do we need to change? It is interesting to see how zoos are fast adapting to the changing world in which we live. Many zoological societies have repositioned themselves as champions of endangered species and breeding programmes. They’re now seen as defenders of animal welfare, a complete about-face to the general image of a generation ago. Maybe the question should be reframed; What do museums need to do in the future to remain relevant and a trusted resource?
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: TRANSPARENCY, AUTHENTICITY AND PARTICIPATION
by Lisa Leblanc Director, Creative Development, Canadian History Hall at Canadian Museum of History
Museums have spent the better part of a generation in an identity crisis, querying their social role and value, and perhaps their underlying purpose. Were they research facilities, amusement parks, educational institutions, storage vaults? Technological change, though not inherently a game changer, raised additional questions about shared authority, democratization, and access.
But amidst change and uncertainty, there was constancy too, and not all of it about budget challenges or keeping abreast of everything digital. Museums continue to have one special and unique trait: the public trusts them, and more so than any other institution, public, private, or commercial. It is the perfect brand value proposition.
How might it be maintained in an increasingly crowded marketplace of ideas, where ‘curating’ has been stripped of professional context to sell home décor and breakfast foods, vacation travel and fashion trends? How perhaps might museums even expand it, moving beyond the status quo (however enviable) to positions of societal leadership?
"Leveraging – and sharing – authenticity, museums can transcend institutionalism or parochialism to demystify a shared humanity in a singular world"
It is not far-fetched. Already valued, reliable and demonstrably useful in societies made cacophonous by mind-bending quantities of data, museums consistently provide the least biased, most critically neutral interpretations of the past. It is an extraordinary competitive advantage.
Working transparently, museums must now move beyond mere representations of evidence to demonstrate explicitly how knowledge is developed, shared, or revisited. Making evident the gaps or omissions in our knowledge, identifying marginal or absent voices, helps audiences to explore with confidence and promotes engagement through nuance, perspective, and diversity. Authoritativeness has not enhanced cultural institutions, but authenticity has. Leveraging – and sharing – authenticity, museums must speak from multiple points of view, encouraging stakeholder and audience participation, even while bolstering scholarship. In assisting audiences to better understand how the past informs the present, how patterns and similarities can be observed in the seeming diversity and idiosyncrasies of history, museums can transcend institutionalism or parochialism to demystify a shared humanity in a singular world.
Whether museums remain physical destinations or digital tools is of little importance. It is not the container that will define them. Public trust will. Continued vigourous inquiries, courageously shared; democratized access to knowledge and uncertainty; transparent professional practices and accountability: these are the cornerstones of the museums of the future.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: IMPORTANT SHARED EXPERIENCE
by Kaywin Feldman, Director and President, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Museums in the future will be extremely crowded. They will be open longer hours because they will have become an even more integral part of our daily lives. As community gathering centers, they will offer a wider range of program and audience engagement. Our understandings of the meaning of culture, collaboration, and participation will all become more expansive, thereby broadening the ways in which institutions can connect with our diverse communities.
"Our understandings of the meaning of culture, collaboration, and participation will all become more expansive, broadening the ways in which institutions can connect with our diverse communities"
I'm one of those people who believe that museums have become increasingly important in our chaotic, stress- and distraction-filled world. Since museums offer experiences, memories, and the self-directed exploration of content, they will beckon as a necessary respite from our often isolated, digital and virtual lives. Besides, in a world where we can fake anything, from art, to the news, to genetically manufactured food, the need to experience the real thing will only become greater.
Ultimately, museums matter because they are filled with wondrous things that remind us of what it is to be human. Our shared experience is expressed in so many interesting, exciting, and impactful ways. As the philosopher Alan Watts said, "the meaning of life is life itself". Museums are full of life: past, present, and future.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: ENGAGING AUDIENCES MORE DEEPLY
by Ellie Miles, Interpretation Officer, The British Museum and Sascha Priewe, Managing Director, Royal Ontario Museum
Over the last couple of decades the arrival of digital technologies brought constructive disruption to museums. Museums who have experimented with digital projects, including online learning, digitization, born-digital collections or digital methods in visitor studies (a few examples amongst many) will have discovered how creative and collaborative their staff can be. As control of museums’ digital activities settles down in organizational structures, the best museums will have gained a greater understanding of the range of skills amongst their staff, and glimpsed how they can be combined with external expertise and participatory projects.
"The best museums will have gained a greater understanding of the range of skills amongst their staff, and glimpsed how they can be combined with external expertise and participatory projects"
These lessons will augment museums’ longer-term experience. Museums have always been iterative institutions, adapting and amending their collections, research, methods and exhibits as time passes. Collections grow, research evolves and attitudes toward the ‘public’ have been progressing. This process will continue, and small-scale interventions and experimental research projects will help museums to develop their ideas. Museums will need to work hard to maintain knowledge gained through this work.
With qualification-inflation and the proliferation of people keen to enter the museum workforce (despite continued pressure on wages), staff, increasingly on temporary contracts, will develop portfolio careers, moving in and out of museum work more often. As project-funded workforces shift, the networks and links between museums will strengthen. Inside museums, staff will continue to get better at working with different teams, including participants from outside the museum. Curatorial expertise will be valued and other expertise will be acknowledged too, as the participatory museum approach grows. The curator will rarely be spoken of as the embodiment of the museum, as museums recognise that it is the combination of ideas, collections, skills and people that is important.
Curators and others will form teams composed of people with complementary and equally valued skill sets. These collaborations will bring new combinations of skills to bear on museum projects, helping museums to create engaging exhibitions and programs, linking insight and skills from web, visitor services, designers, curators and learning teams bringing into balance the visitors’ demands with what the museum can supply. By thinking of the visit as an event, and one that fits into the context of visitors’ lifestyle choices, museums will be able to enrich their offer, and will diversify and engage their audiences more deeply and enduringly.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: ART MUSEUMS, AN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE
by Silvia Filippini-Fantoni - Director of Interpretation, Media and Evaluation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Recent reports from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) indicate that attendance to museums, art museums in particular, continues to decline at least in the United States both in terms of audience share and size. This is in part due to the lingering effects of the economic downturn but also and especially to the changing demographics. While older Americans continue to visit, the drop is coming mostly from the younger well-educated but less committed Millennial generation and potentially their offspring. This drying-up of the pipeline imperils the very future of art organizations, and if not reversed, there might be very few art museums to go to in the not so distant future.
“Museums need to experiment with new ways of engaging their audiences, particularly the millennial generation, which is more interested in social interaction, participation and self-discovery than more traditional learning”
Given these premises, the current business model on which many American art museums are based, which relies heavily on traditional and more passive forms of engagement, large endowment draws and donation from an aging donor base is not sustainable in the long term. So the biggest priority for most art institutions in the United States in the next few years is to implement a digital age shift in their business model. What does that entail? While there is no clear answer as every institution is different and needs to figure out what works for its community, geographical location, and collection, it is paramount that art museums embark in a journey of rediscovery and reorganization. Art organizations need to evaluate and rethink their admission policies, price structure, membership benefits, marketing strategies and fundraising approaches. They need to experiment with new ways of engaging their audiences, particularly the millennial generation, which is more interested in social interaction, participation and self-discovery than more traditional learning. In order to support such changes it is important for cultural leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the business and management side of things and support infrastructural changes within their institutions that foster experimentation and innovation.
As with many issues, a good place to start is to admit that there is a problem. I am fortunate enough to work for an institution that has made financial sustainability a priority for the next five to ten years. This has already brought a number of structural changes and forced us to experiment with different ways of engaging and communicating with our audience. While some of these experiments might fail, admitting that we cannot afford to operate in the same way we have done in the past hundred and fifty years is a very important step in the long-term process of finding a new and sustainable model that works within the context of our changing society.
So going back to the original question: what will museums, particularly art museums, be like in the future? The answer is: I am not sure yet but what I know is that if we want them to still be open and relevant thirty years from now, a paradigm shift needs to happen very soon.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: ENTREPRENEURIAL AND CREATIVE
by Lucy Shaw, Oxford University Museums Partnership Manager and Oxford Cultural Leaders Programme Director
One thing is clear - the future will not be the same, and that is not a bad thing at all.
Museums need to look beyond public funding, to reinvent themselves as businesses, albeit not-for-profit, with entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving. There is a clear need for leaders who are prepared to do things differently and break from the past.
I’m very interested in the term ‘entrepreneurial’ as it’s being used ever more frequently and much store is being placed on museums and their leaders becoming ‘entrepreneurially minded’. But what does this mean? It’s not just about coming up with great money spinning schemes – it’s about working with, and supporting museums to develop really creative and awesome ideas that overcome problems and stimulate change. It’s about having the confidence to take risks and accept that ‘the money will follow’.
"It’s about museums developing really creative and awesome ideas that overcome problems and stimulate change. It’s about having the confidence to take risks and accept that ‘the money will follow’"
Here at Oxford University Museums, we have been developing initiatives to address the challenges facing the museum sector. For example, in March 2015, after two years of research and development, we ran the Oxford Cultural Leaders (OCL) programme for the first time in partnership with colleagues from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. We brought together 17 directors and senior managers from the UK, Europe and New Zealand, in an environment designed to be disruptive, yet supportive - where participants could experiment, feel able to take risks with ideas, break old habits, create new ways of thinking and behaving, and develop mechanisms for dealing with demanding situations. In other words, OCL encourages entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving.
This is the future for museums – to blend social and educational purpose with clever entrepreneurial practices and mixed-funding business models, underpinned by a deep understanding of, and connection to audiences who want to come back.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: MUSEUMS ARE FOREVER, REMOVE THE SHORT-TERM PRESSURE
by Merel van der Vaart, PhD Candidate, University of Amsterdam / Allard Pierson Museum
It is often said that museums are conservative by nature. They preserve our heritage for future generations and when working within the timeframe of forever an organisation is unlikely to change, or so we tell ourselves. But what if the opposite is true? What if many museums find it so hard to change, because they are trapped in the short-term cycles of project funding, temporary exhibitions and ever-changing (local) government demands? This way of working, from one deadline to the next, puts tremendous pressure on museums and leaves little room for reflection, defining your identity, and developing a vision for the future. This is especially challenging for small museums, with few paid staff and limited resources.
For museums to thrive and be relevant, now and in the future, we need to find ways to alleviate this short-term pressure. Technology is not the solution, but it can help. It allows museums to easily update gallery and online content, it lets them re-use and repurpose, and it can create space to be playful.
"The museum of the future will not be conservative. It will be ambitious about being an accessible, relevant, and flexible organisation. It will be confident about being unlike any other museum"
For many small museums the introduction of on-gallery technology has been challenging. Hardware is costly and almost all tech development, support, and maintenance have to be outsourced. This both has financial implications and prohibits staff from gaining new, digital, skills. In the future, technology should not only benefit museum visitors, it should enhance the organisation as a whole. For example, by allowing for quick content-updates and the re-use of hardware, without the need of external support.
Technology can allow museums to be more sustainable and let the new evolve from the existing. Today, museums often only make an exhibition on a certain subject once. In the future, it should be common practice to revisit a theme, because society changed, the organisation changed, and with the help of technology something new can be developed that builds on the resources and research that were created before.
In addition, museum staff should be encouraged to experiment and play. By being playful we can bring new relevance to existing content, shine a new light on our historic collections and use our existing, digital, tools in exciting new ways.
The museum of the future will not be conservative. It will be ambitious about being an accessible, relevant, and flexible organisation. It will be confident about being unlike any other museum.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: HUBS OF ENGAGEMENT
by Catherine O'Donnell, Engagement & Events Officer, People’s History Museum
Museums will be challenging, engage with contemporary issues and won’t be afraid to ask provocative questions. They will use their collections and stories to inform the present and inspire the future. They will be hubs of engagement and participation, encouraging diverse voices to bring fresh perspectives and forge new connections. Most importantly, museums will stand up for themselves and their communities when faced with opposition and adversity, staying true to their core ethos and ethics.
"Museums will be hubs of engagement and participation, encouraging diverse voices to bring fresh perspectives and forge new connections"
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: RETAINING THEIR SENSE OF PUBLIC SERVICE
by David Fleming - Director, National Museums Liverpool
I’d like to begin to answer his question by saying what I hope museums will NOT be like. I hope they are not all commercially-driven, but retain their sense of public service, which means that they are of value to, and used by all, not just by a few.
As we see public spending being rolled back, the museum sector is at risk of losing its public service ethos (or the ‘handout’ ethos, some delight in calling it), and ending up spending most of their energy scraping around for funds to keep going. I’m not against commerciality, or efficiency, but I am also of the view that a democracy works best when it tries hard to ensure that people with the least are not excluded from access to the good things in life by those who have plenty; in the UK we started to create a Welfare State more than 100 years ago, and among other things we have created the National Health Service (NHS), precisely because, as a nation, most of us think this way.
The NHS is the Welfare State in full flow, and it’s probably the UK’s best-loved institution. It’s the thing we appreciate most when we need it, and it’s the thing we would miss most if we were to lose it. The NHS is the institution we can be sure will feature most prominently in any General Election, as all political parties do their utmost to come across as its protector.
"Museums of the future need to find leadership that is brave enough to espouse the social value of these institutions, not to bend in the wind every time a politician demands to know what their economic value is"
Museums need to be more like the NHS, but the lukewarm support for museums in this Age of Austerity indicates that we have a long way to go; and this is because museums have not embedded themselves in the national psyche as essential to the health of the nation. Why? Because too many are still perceived as serving a restricted, privileged audience, including overseas tourists. Museums are too readily seen in terms of economic importance, rather than in terms of their social importance. This is despite the fact that many, if not most museums, no longer only serve privileged audiences.
No-one judges the NHS in terms of its economic value, and museums shouldn’t be judged like this either. Museums of the future need to find leadership that is brave enough to espouse the social value of these institutions, not to bend in the wind every time a politician demands to know what their economic value is.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: MUSEUMS AS YOUNG LEARNER’S CLASSROOMS
Charissa Ruth - Freelance Museum Educator, New York City
Schools located in museums are just one way museums will continue to be relevant and important in the future. Over the last few decades the role of education in the museum field has grown at a momentous rate and most museums now have an education department that provides a range of programs for visitors. There has also been an increasing amount of research about the development that occurs in the first five years of human life. Many museums are building off that research and offering more opportunities and services to encourage families with young children to explore and enjoy museums.
"Not only do museums provide an ideal place for learning but they also have the potential to create a vast community of museum advocates, people who will use and support museums all their life"
One of these opportunities is the creation of preschools and nursery schools located in or as part of museums. The museum preschool or nursery school is a home to a synthesis of early childhood and museum education theory and practices. This kind of singular experience helps foster a deep love of learning in the children who come through these programs, fostering lifelong learners. These children are also given the very fundamental building blocks to become aware members of the local and global community in which they belong. These institutions also represent the opportunity for greater participation of families and the community as a whole.
The students see themselves as part of the microcosm of the museum. They see the community of the museum and also the community with which the museum engages. They return day in and day out to a place that becomes a safe place, a second home in a manner of speaking. Not only do museums provide an ideal place for learning but they also have the potential to create a vast community of museum advocates, people who will use and support museums for the duration of their life.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: COMFORT, MEANING AND DELIGHT
Peter Gorgels, Internet Manager, Rijksmuseum
With the huge and growing range of leisure activities on offer, museums face increasing competition. Busy people with and without kids can choose between spending a day out at an amusement park, zoo, football match, cinema, out in the woods, on the dunes or at the seaside, or simply stay at home with their smartphone or game console for entertainment. No longer do museums stand for an experience that is intrinsically unique or significant.
At the same time, a very different trend is taking shape: a return to authenticity, to things that have real meaning and that might demand some extra effort but also offer a genuine experience that you can touch and feel. This trend opens up new opportunities for museums with their troves of unique and authentic objects.
"A trend is taking shape: a return to authenticity, to things that have real meaning and that might demand some extra effort but also offer a genuine experience This trend opens up new opportunities for museums with their troves of unique and authentic objects"
To flourish amidst these competing forces, the museum of the future must excel on several crucial fronts.
The museum of the future should be comfortable: Just as at modern stadiums, shops and cinemas, visitors expect museums to offer perfect service. They enjoy being pampered and expect all facilities – from e-ticketing to the cloakroom and restaurant – to be fast, efficient and flawless. All online and physical dimensions of their museum visit have to be seamlessly interwoven. Also important is the durability of the presentations. Stunning new architecture and interior designs made to look ultra-modern with all the latest technologies can often feel dated within just a few years.
The museum of the future should offer meaning: People today are increasingly seeking authentic experiences that give meaning to their lives. With their wealth of quintessentially authentic objects, museums are in an unparalleled position to offer such experiences. But no longer as authoritarian institutions: modern museum visitors want to follow their own interests and form their own opinions. The museum of the future will therefore function more as a ‘meaning platform’ where users are inspired to chart their own course and to become, as it were, designers and artists themselves. The digital domain has a logical role to play in this development, of which the Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio is a good example.
The museum of the future should delight: Visitors want to see fresh and modern exhibits in an open environment that also offers surprises. Artworks should be spotlighted in special ways to help them shine, juxtaposed with playful accents that bring a smile to visitors’ faces. Highbrow and lowbrow displays can be alternated in a natural ebb and flow. People should not feel ‘drained’ by a visit to the museum, but delighted.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: WHEN THE MUSEUM GROWS INVISIBLE
Bhavani Esapathi, Digital Innovation Consultant
How is the museum going to look in the future? We’d be making a fundamental error to consider the museum as an entity on its own without looking at the progressively changing digital landscape.
The emerging technologies have given rise to nuanced notions of space, identity and everyday mechanisms from ordering a taxi (Uber) to being a consumer. One is no longer just a consumer, we’re simultaneously both consumers and by the very act of consuming, producers of new markets. Under such tightly woven yet ever-evolving creative communities, how will we accept and make space for museums and other such art ventures?
"Let’s dedicate our time now to discovering in what way museums needs to be shaped to allow them to be included amidst the chaotic overload of things that continue to populate the digital landscape"
Our present digital landscape has already blurred the lines between public and private spaces, it would be safe to assume this trend will continue into the future. The museum as an institution will adapt to becoming highly personalised and the way we consume everything that a museum can offer will need to be packaged within the dynamics of such emerging markets.
Perhaps there is no single definition for the future museum but one that we carry in our pockets or watches. Which screen do we want to occupy is the big question? I’d want to be synonymous with the most dominant screen that has all the eyes & ears, is it going to remain to be our smartphones? Probably not. Let’s dedicate our time now to discovering in what way or form museums needs to be shaped that not just promotes inclusivity rather, allows for the museum to be included amidst the chaotic overload of things that continue to populate the digital landscape.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: REBOOTING THE MUSEUM BUSINESS MODEL
by Ben Hamley, Manager of Audience Research, Strategy and Advocacy, Queensland Museum
There is a gap in the market for a museum with no exhibitions.
Working in audience research, when I ask people what value they get from a museum experience, I always hear the same kind of thing. A story about an object, or an idea about the way the world works. This tells me something; that people come to museums for stories and ideas - not for exhibitions. Yet exhibitions are ‘what we do’, they are our primary product.
I believe that fundamentally, museums are content distribution businesses, and content businesses everywhere are undergoing massive transformations towards on-demand / access-over-ownership models (Netflix / Spotify). Museums are already halfway there with an established ‘access premium’ advantage for one-of-a-kind objects of significance.
If we follow the thread of the digital age forwards into the maturity of Internet-of-things / automation technology, I believe we will see the emergence of an entirely new class of museum. The on-demand museum.
This future museum will have far fewer (zero) exhibition teams and a great deal more interdisciplinary creatives, storytellers, interpreters, translators, concierges, chefs.... and robots. They will become hybrids of five-star hotels and swiss-bank vault viewing rooms.
- Robots (For Collection Management): Amazon own a company called Kiva Systems, whose robots operate the warehouse inventory and order fulfillment systems of Amazon in a way that treats a system of modular shelves like most majestic game of never-ending-chess you could ever imagine. Museums are already feeling the pinch with regards to space. A future museum will solve this problem by doing away with many and varied compacti, allowing collection transfers to be handled by kin of Kiva. Architecturally challenged institutions may even reclaim gallery space because exhibitions are redundant. Storage facilities will be redeveloped, even museums who choose to stick with exhibitions will benefit from the rapid random-access to their collections.
- Collection As Database - On-Demand, Snackable Content: A digitised and automated collection automatically updates the availability of items and tracks important factors such as light exposure, or rest-time required before next viewing. These variables will become part of the a new museum visitors literacy. It is highly likely that most visitors will pre-arrange their visits - often many months in advance. If a collection item has associated content or articles, they will be displayed on the in-room monitors for the visitor to engage if they desire. A cousin of Netflix’s content algorithm will match users with items they may enjoy, and schedule conservation works based on collection usage.
- Five Star Experience: A museum of the future will not have lines or crowds. There will be no tacky, wasteful single-use paraphernalia. Guests will have booked in advance - much like hotels today - and be greeted by a concierge who is expecting them, knows their preferences, and can anticipate their needs. The museum building itself will be barely recognisable. Great halls now replaced with private rooms, appointed to an unrecognisable level of luxury - a perk of consolidating the exhibition design budget into refurbishment. From individual item viewing or research term rooms all the way to mixed use function space and dining - there will be a room for any purpose, at any time of day. Rates will vary accordingly, however standard inclusions may offer a drink on arrival and 15-20mins with an expert generalist collection interpreter who assists visitors with their first selections or tells the story an item pre-arranged for viewing. Additional services include an interpretation officer or storyteller on hand at all times, or a seven course degustation - with matched objects.
- Set free through insight: And finally - museums will have succeeded in overcoming two of their greatest existential risks; collection use and relevance, and audience insight. Their multi-million item collections will be mobile, accessible and monitored to ensure utilisation. But perhaps more importantly; museums will have available at their fingertips, precise customer information, collection preference information and a variety of other data-points on their operations that have never before been considered - let alone measured.
I don’t expect every museum of the future to be like the one described here, but for those willing to invest in designing a better business model for museums - the rewards are waiting.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: AUTHENTIC, TRUSTED, ACCESSIBLE
by Mark Graham, Director of Research, Canadian Museum of Nature
The future is full of tall challenges and that is not a new thing. Some of those are certain, and of the serious-decision-making-new-direction sort. We know this because we can count, and we know the human population is growing faster than we can accommodate. Every economic, environmental and social challenge can be traced in short order to our remarkable ability to reproduce and survive. Considering the road ahead, the museum of the future has important roles to play.
"The future museum will provide easy access to its trusted knowledge base, and to the stories to be told. Relevant, successful museums will find affordable, timely solutions for this access"
Museums are full of trusted evidence (collections) marking time and place that we use to tell stories to remind us of what has happened on Earth, and beyond. It reminds us of the way we live our lives (our cultures), and how millions of other species live their lives. More than ever, we will use that knowledge to be informed, and to nourish our sense of being. The evidence will remind us of what we like and need most, and help us to plan for those things more and better. The collected knowledge will also remind us of the worst we are capable of. If we are wise and strong the knowledge will be used to guard against our failures.
The future museum will provide easy access to its trusted knowledge base, and to the stories to be told. Relevant, successful museums will find affordable, timely solutions for this access, made possible by adapting to ever-emerging technology; a continuing enslavement. Because of their authenticity and new-found accessibility, museums will be the enduring “-pedias”.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: THE FUTURE IS NOW
by Adam Reed Rozan, Audience Development Manager, Oakland Museum of California
For most centenarians, a birthday is a celebrated with family, friends, and the chance encounter on the local news for such a feat. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for museums, our communal super-centenarians, which now, more than ever, believe thinking and acting younger is better, and reinvention is key.
This trend started several years ago, and is easily spotted in marketing departments, which are now re-titled with fancy descriptors like audience development. New to this mix is engagement, a role/function which stems from the need to further align curatorial, marketing, and education in an effort to capture the attention of today’s visitors. After all, it’s about the visitors.
"By using collections creatively, engaging in the dialogue and activity of today’s culture, while presenting our institutions as thought leaders is a glimpse of a hopeful future"
For museums and museum employees, the debate between objects and visitors will continue to grow - each side believing their argument is right. If the idea of museums being in the “forever” business is no longer a wise business model, what is? The future is a working relationship in which collections become the ‘all-stars’, used as entry points for visitors, including those who may only participate online. By using collections creatively, engaging in the dialogue and activity of today’s culture, while presenting our institutions as thought leaders is a glimpse of a hopeful future.
The next 10 years will continue to prove challenging for museums. Today’s issues will not dissipate; if anything they will multiply. Yet, despite such a negative outlook, many museums will thrive, using challenges as opportunities to test new business and engagement models, and, in doing so, meeting the future head on.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: SUSTAINABILITY AND WELL-BEING
by Tony Butler, Director, Derby Museums
How different will museums be in the future? On the surface not much. They will still be situated in large buildings, they will still have abundant collections and people will still desire to see and feel the real thing. I hope they will be as diverse as they are now.
The museums of the future that will really connect with their audiences will be the ones which place sustainability and well-being at their heart. They’ll reflect the global challenges of climate change and the decline in living standards with which we are now becoming familiar. Museums should not just see themselves as places for learning or houses of collections but as civic connectors leading the re-imagining of a more liveable world.
"The museums of the future that will really connect with their audiences will be the ones which place well-being at their heart. Museums should not just see themselves as places for learning or houses of collections but as civic connectors leading the re-imagining of a more liveable world"
As more and more public space is privatised museums should realise their advantages as accessible places for encounters. They’ll also be rallying points for the community, leading local campaigns, connecting up civic society groups, using their collections in a more activist way to illuminate local concerns. Alternatively they should realise their roles as places for sanctuary from commercial messages and reflection.
Being a high well-being, sustainable organisation isn’t just about programming or collecting decisions. It is as much about institutional behaviour. Museums should be judged on what they are as well as what they do. Ask the following questions:
• Do you have people who play a true leadership role in local civil society?
• Do local people make decisions both about programming and governance?
• Do you actively lead campaigns in your locality based on clearly articulated values?
• Have you ever measured the museum’s impact on the environment?
• Have you ever shared your assets with community groups and enterprises?
• Do you really know how emotionally engaged your users are? Are they happy or sad or are they just indifferent?
Embracing these challenges could lead to an invigorating transformation that places museums at the heart of an active public realm with significant benefits for society and museums alike.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: DEMOCRATISATION AND CO-PRODUCTION
by Iain Watson, Director, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Over the next 5 - 10 years, I think, and hope, that the big change in museums will be a further shift in the balance of power between funders and investors, museum staff and volunteers and museum users.
The last 20 years have seen great strides in democratisation and co-production, with fantastic exhibitions and projects led by and initiated by user groups. In publicly funded museums we need to see more of a join up between consultation and engagement and the overall strategic direction of the organisation.
Current initiatives around impact assessments and public consultations on the expenditure of public money are often either very high level (for example Whole Council level), or very specific (for example at ward level). I am convinced that museums will develop new ways of bringing their users in, not just to plan an exhibition on the story of a particular locality. The permeability of museums and communities to each other will increase.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: COLLABORATION AND IMAGINATION
by Celia Dominguez, Education and Development Officer, Museum of East Asian Art
The future of museums is becoming a balancing act between surviving the devastating consequences of funding cuts and striving to make the best of the creative minds working in the sector. Over time, the image of museums has evolved throughout history. Two centuries ago, the French author and politician Alphonse de la Martine (1790 -1860) said that museums were “the cemeteries of the arts”, you can find similar quotes by John Burroughs (1837 –1921) or J.D. Salinger when he writes in his infamous novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951) “…museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. …Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.” Contrary to these ideas of immobility associated to museums we can affirm that, no matter how hard the current situation is, museums are experiencing an exciting and vibrant moment. We proudly belong to one of the few sectors that does not completely stop because of the lack of funds since our capital also relies on so many other aspects such as collaborations, contributions, partnerships etc. The use of imagination in order to get as many visitors involved as possible in what is not now just a “place full of objects” but rather a total vital experience. Therefore it is not the “Big Society” but the passion, creativity and will power of all the professionals in the sector that is going to put the weight on the right side of the balance.”
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: REFLECTING IN REAL-TIME
by Julie Obermeyer, Curator and Manager, The Peace Museum
I work for an independent museum that currently has little technology (display screens, computer interactive consoles, hand-held devices, etc) in its galleries. But increasingly I see museums embracing new technologies and opening up to the idea and practice of more democratically created exhibitions with museum audiences as co-creators. These changes have been taking place for some time and will continue apace into the foreseeable future but what will remain that will distinguish museums from theme parks and entertainment centres is the fact that museums have historically important collections and staff who have the expertise to make creative but informed use of the collections.
With the opening up of museum interpretation by more democratic practices museum interpretation will change quite significantly in the years ahead. Specifically, museums will be able to move further away from having a dominant narrative to multiple narratives which can dialogue with one another and with museum audiences both meaningfully and respectfully. This will in turn affect the content and themes which museums will want to cover and will effectively enable museums to approach subjects and themes which hitherto may have appeared too problematic or controversial for them to want to tackle. This will in turn provide museums with more confidence to respond to and reflect on more contemporary topics, almost in real-time. Contemporary collecting will become more important, too, as museums rise to the challenge of being more responsive to the unfolding of recent events.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: UNIQUELY PLACED FOR REFLECTION
by Richard Freedman, Director, South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation
In South Africa, as we struggle with the legacy of apartheid, including pervasive poverty, racism and xenophobia, the place of human rights and democracy education has assumed added importance. Museums are uniquely placed to engage in using history to reflect on contemporary issues. Using the platform of Holocaust history has proved successful in moving South Africans through time and space, away from the context in which they live, and by so doing to engage with their own history and the issues of our time.
The themes that run through the programmes conducted with school and university students, police and correctional services and in-service educators include the fragility of democracy, the dangers of stereotyping, marginalization, apathy and silence, all of which emerge so eloquently from Holocaust History. In a post traumatic society like South Africa there is a need to engage with our own past in order to recognize were we have come from and to find a way into the future. South Africans have not had sufficient opportunities for healing and thus the experience of visits to the Holocaust centre and exposure to its programmes have provided, for many, a sorely needed opportunity to reflect on the deep issues troubling us still.
South Africa’s High school curriculum is closely aligned to the National Constitution and Bill of Rights. Teachers are enjoined to infuse human rights awareness into all aspects of the curriculum. The inclusion of Holocaust studies as a mandated unit has begun to have significant impact and has placed our institutions in a unique position to support both teacher training and development of appropriate materials which contextualise the teaching of the Holocaust in South Africa’s own history. The South African Holocaust Centres (we do not refer to ourselves as museums) regard their permanent exhibitions as a teaching tool and we see that through their use as such we will be able in some measure to contribute to nation building. There is much work to be done.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: NO PLACE FOR ELITISM
by Carlos Alejandro López Ramírez, Director, Salsa Museum - Cali, Colombia
First of all it is vital to reflect on museums in their own cultural and social context. It will be different for museums in Europe or North America, or as in my case, in South America, specifically in Colombia. The Latin American context is very different, so if the museums here do not become cultural centers where you can integrate education, recreation and preservations, in 15 years there are not going to be any museums. It is vital to show the community that the museum is not a temple or elitist, but a place where they can find leisure activities, knowledge, entertainment, and over all, identification of their own heritage and culture. Therefore, it is very important to have authentic governmental promotion policies for museums.
The fight for these rights must be done by the union of the museums administrators and workers; it is fundamental to work in networks and groups to have a real voice.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: A NATURALLY COMPELLING FUTURE
by Sharon Ament, Director Public Engagement, The Natural History Museum
In a world which necessitates the navigation of scientific issues for people to live their daily lives and one which has rapidly changing natural resources the future for natural history museums is compelling. As the repository of the world’s natural heritage the collective contribution that the international network of natural history museums can make to some of the most pressing scientific issues of the day is profound.
We in London alone have more than 70 million specimens and in European museums it numbers more than 500 million. Each collection has its strengths, built up over hundreds of years, drawn from particular geographies and with particular specialisms. Internationally this represents a rich picture of the world’s natural diversity over time and place; a resource which is drawn on by thousands of scientists each year. The future challenge is to consider it collectively as a shared global resource. To meet this challenge we will need to have stronger collaborations within the museum sector and beyond with universities, government agencies, libraries, digital enterprises and business.
Natural history museums are at the centre of public discourse. With the environment high on the agenda I can think of no other part of the museum sector that has the potential to engage at the highest political level and with such potency at the personal level. Looking to the future we will need to tread a careful path, as trusted institutions we must continue to guard public confidence in our objectivity, whilst putting forward strong views on evolution, climate change and biodiversity loss.
Moreover, simply by inhabiting the spaces we do in cities and towns, natural history museums will become even more significant, in the urban lives of the majority of the world’s population where perhaps we are the only connection with the natural environment for people who will never venture into or feel comfortable in the countryside.
Due to our roots to the past our contribution to the future is likely to have a greater impact than many of us can currently imagine.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: HAVE A STRONG FOCUS OR STRUGGLE
by Paul Rowe, Joint CEO, Vernon Systems
Every museum needs to develop a clear area of expertise. This shapes their collecting policy and gives a focal point for the public. In their area of expertise they need to be trusted, sharing and engaging. Museums that don’t have a strong focus will struggle to find the resources to manage their collections and will find it difficult to build an audience for their content. The world is changing - people look for sources they can trust when they need information, but they are increasingly expecting to be able to re-use that information in different ways, and to be able to discuss the information with the provider and a wider audience.
Museums of the future will engage with their visitors in the museum, with the physical spaces outside of the museum and with virtual audiences they build around specific subjects. Conversations between museums and the public help fill the gaps in our stories. Without these conversations museums risk the audience moving on to a new venue.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: EVOLVING FOR THE 21st CENTURY
by Roy Clare, Director, Auckland Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira, New Zealand
Museums face two major challenges: how to collect sustainably; and how to remain relevant. These challenges reflect the abiding principles of museums: collections-centred, audience-focused.
No museum can afford to acquire everything that is available. Discernment is crucial, coupled with a rigorous analysis of the collections, focusing both on acquiring and disposing.
Expectations of museums are changing. Leisure time is at a premium. Consumers make choices based on perceived value and potential for excitement. Some museums neglect their collections and become ‘attractions’, losing authority as places of scholarship and learning. Others fail to keep up with changing patterns of use, with risks for viability. Digital media are core to people’s lives, so museums need fluency in that environment too, from promotion and access to engagement.
Museum Boards and executives need to:
• Drive policies for managing collections. A whole life-cycle strategy should systematically encompass: goal-setting; acquiring new items; caring for collections; making as much as possible available to the public (physically, in galleries; virtually, on-line; and intellectually, through research programmes and published resources); assessing duplication and merit; and enabling disposal.
• Really understand their market. Including those people that are neither visitors nor users. Based on that evidence, decision-makers can reach conclusions about the style, pace and nature of programmes. Partnerships can support delivery in more than one location, reaching more diverse audiences, being innovative and generating revenues.
The profile of a museum starts with leadership and risk appetite; creative ambition and entrepreneurialism should follow, so that evolution matches public demand.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: LEADING SOCIAL CHANGE
by Camilo Sanchez, Museum of Independence, Colombia
Museums in the future will have to respond faster to social and economical change. I am writing this while attending at an international museum conference, and I keep hearing byzantine discussions about the rather old conundrum of what is more important between objects or people, or how important, or not, it is to have standards in museums. I really hope that in the near future that kind of discussion will be superseded and we start talking seriously about how to become relevant social agents that can quickly adapt to a world that changes faster every day.
I know it might be Utopia, but I would love to see museums become important for communities, not only because they guard their heritage, but rather because they lead social change and become places that help to effectively solve problems (or at least think of solutions) that are becoming sadly recurrent, like economical global crisis, terrorism, rapid climate change, racial discrimination, increasing poverty and crime. That way, people will stop thinking that culture and museums are, like a Dutch politician stated recently, “a left-wing hobby”.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: TO PONDER AND PARTICIPATE
by Ailsa Barry Head of New Media, The Natural History Museum
What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?
This poem, published in 1911 by Welsh poet William Henry Davies, conjures up for me the very essence of a museum - a place to pause, reflect and ponder on the amazing world and universe that we inhabit. In the 21st Century I hope it continues to be as true as it was for the 20th Century. But the 21st Century is a very different environment from that of a hundred years ago, and the museum of the future will require a rethink on how to captivate a generation brought up on gaming and Facebook.
Our future visitors will expect to be able to enrich and layer their experience by seamlessly accessing multi-dimensional experiences about the objects around them through a plethora of personal mobile devices. Data about their visit will be captured and analysed in real time, giving a dynamic experience that responds to their needs. And they will want to respond, participate and share their experiences with a global audience as the mood takes them.
There will be challenges in meeting such demands. How much museums invest in creating such rich and varied experiences will be a significant consideration, and new partnerships and ways of working internally, regionally and internationally will be key to successful delivery. But in developing such a digitally rich and accessible environment, museums will be able to reach out and engage a broader global community - enabling them to stop, stare, ponder and participate with the world around them.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: CHANGE AND VARIETY
by Mona Rashid Bin Hussain, Head of Adult and Academic Programmes at Sharjah Museums Department, and PhD Candidate at Leicester University, School of Museum Studies
Over the last 40 years almost 40 museums have opened around the United Arab Emirates (UAE). All of them are local government funded and half of them display heritage/history collections that are intended to preserve the cultural identity of the region. 10 years ago the common idea was that museums would display collections intended for the tourist market. Nowadays there is more variety. There are 22 museums in the Emirate of Sharjah and 9 museums in the Emirate of Dubai. Abu Dhabi is currently building a cultural district on Al Sadyaat Island which will include 2 internationally linked museums, the Guggenheim Museum and the Louver Abu Dhabi. It will also have two national museums, The Maritime Museum and The Zayed Museum. These expansions, part of Abu Dhabi 2030 Urban Structure Framework aim to place UAE on the cultural tourism map.
While museums are planned for a diverse population that reflects the large expatriate community of the UAE, the museum planners are researching ways in which a museum visit would become part of the local Emirati culture. Change is already evident with increasing number of studies have shown that people who visit museums in the past are the most likely to visit in the future. This will create a museums lovers’ community and hopefully a place where museums can be places where the community can learn about each other and the world around them.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: MUSEUMS ARE MIRRORS
by Linda Duke, Director, Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University
Museums are mirrors. In them we see the history and complicated features of ourselves, we the human beings. It doesn’t matter if the focal subject of a museum is history or culture, science or art, the natural world or the most “unnatural” outcomes of human activity; all museums are about us because we have made them. In their display cases and gallery installations museums show us in tangible forms the qualities of our own perceptions, understandings, and ways of thinking.
People are made up of many parts and pieces, physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Some of these parts are not easily compatible – and so we keep them separate, often unconsciously. Museums reflect this tendency; science, art, and history each have their stories. The next challenge for museums is to become places where wholeness can be glimpsed, places that allow us to step above the separate narratives and benefit from the intriguing implications of their contradictions. The really enduring spiritual traditions of humanity have always had paradox at their cores; but they have also taught oneness. Oneness: so simple it hurts; so complex that the logical functions of our minds cannot encompass it.
Oneness is a spiritual insight; wholeness is its grounded, material counterpart. My hope for the future of museums is that they will become places that help us sense wholeness so that our science, arts, and history may bring us insight, not simply knowledge.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: FLEXIBLE AND RESILIENT
by Gina Koutsika, Head of National Programmes and Projects, Imperial War Museums
My view is that the fundamental components of museums - collections and people - will remain the same. However, the way we define them has been evolving and will continue to do so to reflect social, political and economic trends. Our mechanisms of acquisition, conservation, access and delivery will also develop to mirror both technological advances and society’s attitudes to leisure activities and learning. Our programme of activities will be more focused on key strategic aims and comprehensive across teams.
We will probably become more flexible and resilient, both as institutions and as professionals. We will aim to be integrated and integral to our communities so that we build a culture of sharing and of creating mutually beneficial partnerships. The projects and programmes we prioritize will be increasingly more outwards looking and sustainable.
In the very near future, technologies such as cloud computing will change the way we work with each other and with our communities. Social networking will probably become more integrated in the way we operate, form partnerships and position our institutions. We will learn to be creative, effective and happy in an ever-changing environment.
Am I too optimistic?
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: THE FUTURE IS INTERACTION
by Jakub Nowakowski, Director, Galicia Jewish Museum, Poland
Museums that exist today are certainly different in many ways than those in the past. Before, museums were institutions of authority that transmitted specific messages down to the public about the past from behind glass display cases, tape, and “do not touch” signs. Gradually, they evolved into places that invite visitors to participate in an interactive and exciting journey. They have changed from institutions where information was directed in only one way: towards the viewer into institutions that are increasingly creating conversations with the viewer. Visitors are invited to participate, are pulled into the life of the museum, not only as passive spectators, but also as active participants.
The Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, Poland, is one example of these new dynamic institutions, and has launched a variety of programs for visitors (both Polish and foreign) creating opportunities for them to use the museum space for their own cultural projects like plays, concerts, and temporary exhibitions that contribute to the museum. Through the “Museum Means More”, program the Galicia Jewish Museum held over 200 such events for all age groups.
It seems that the future of cultural institutions lies in interaction - and not just through the connections created by increasingly popular modern technologies – but, most of all, by inviting visitors to become involved in the life of the museum – their museum.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: RE-INVENT THE MUSEUM
by Stuart Gillis, museum consultant
The near collapse of public sector funding leaves (UK) local authority run museums in the tightest of all situations. It is almost impossible for this sector to escape the current unprecedented savagery of cuts. And the introverted economy of local councils can leave managers without the entrepreneurial edge to compete in the harsh new environment.
The senior museum professional needs to consider if their part of the organisation has become an outpost of an over-reached empire in semi-terminal decline. If there is a plan to address this – jump on board: shape it; add value to it; do all that you can to maximise your influence. You may not be running the programme, but expand your authority by being the person who spends the most time building support and shaping agendas.
It is even better if you can be the person that makes the plan. Start by understanding the power priorities of your local area. Understand where power resides and what is it trying to achieve. Is it about jobs? Is it raising school attainment? Is it a major urban development? And then work out where the museum’s resources (collections, buildings, skills, values) can be best aligned to support this top agenda.
At this stage, work with and listen to as many people from beyond the museum as you can. Be prepared to re-invent what a museum is. Do not be swayed by pessimists. Come up with something that is highly relevant to your area; something that looks like part of the solution; something that captures the imagination; something that is too good to be ignored. And then dig-in and fight for it.
Our museums carry the incredible story of human creativity, a story often propelled forward through response to adversity. So don’t just aim to preserve our museums. Be inspired to take action by what we hold.
We will need vision, bloody-mindedness and a fair slice of luck. But the future of Museums can still be in our hands – if we’re good enough to realise it.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: AFRICAN MUSEUMS IN THE NEXT 2O YEARS
by Okpalanozie Ogechukwu Elizabeth, National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria
The museums in Africa have come a long way, evolving from museums known only to the indigenous community into museums that are recognised globally because of the rich and unique collections in their custody.
The trend of development that is witnessed in African museums in the present day will be sustained in the next twenty years. In years to come, capacity building would have been achieved to a great extent, opening doors to greater impact of the museum on the indigenous communities. These museums will cease to function only as museums where collections are kept and exhibited for the public. The museums will use the tools they have: tangible cultural heritage, to develop the communities in which they exist. The development will cut across different aspects of the community: politics, education, human rights and health. The museums will be working hand in hand with the communities and the communities will feel the positive impact of the presence of the museums.
In addition to this, the museums will be in a better position to care for the collections in their custody. The emerging and young museum professionals working currently in African museums are participating in different types of training, workshops, and networking. The result of this proactive approach is museums with better ethical practices and stable collections.
In the next two decades, African museums will evolve into museums that will touch the lives and soul of African communities and custodians of stable and healthy collections.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS AND OWNERSHIP
by Corey Timpson, Director, Design + New Media & Collections, Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Museums, now more than ever, are looking for new ways to engage visitors. In a world that is dominated by rapid changes in attention, excessive multitasking, and massive media bombardment, it has become increasingly difficult to engage target audiences in meaningful ways. Yet some basic premises remain. Active participants, collaborators, shared owners, are more likely to care, to feel engaged in something, than those passively standing by.
Allowing for personalization is a simple way to attain a more engaged audience – via personalized content or personalized access to content. Providing an opportunity for visitors to engage in dialogue, and for this dialogue to be shared, is personalization taken to the next level.
Where a museum’s interaction model used to be the visitor is informed by the museum, a new interaction model of the visitor is informed by the museum - the visitor informs the museum - the visitor informs the visitor, will provide for greatly increased visitor engagement. The premise is not to ignore or do away with the museum’s responsibility to curate, to be authoritative or be a steward of its collection.
While it continues to evolve and rapidly change, technology will be an important facilitator of a dialogic interaction scenario, as museums look to build increased engagement among their target audience in meaningful ways.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: VIOLENCE AND MUSEUMS OF CONSCIENCE
by Clint Curle, Researcher, Canadian Museum for Human Rights
My particular interest is in museums of conscience. When I think of the role of these museums in society, I always come back to something philosopher Paul Riccoeur once wrote: “there exists a place within society - however violent society may remain owing to its origin or to custom - where words do win out over violence” (Paul Riccoeur, The Just, ix). Museums, of course, are not limited to words alone but have an ever-expanding palette for presenting and representing subjects, and subtle forms of violence can tincture these representations. But the role of the museum of conscience in society fits well with Riccoeur’s insight – a bounded social space where reflection, memory and story win out over violence.
I think violence, broadly understood, is always the context and perhaps even the threat that constitutes the museum of conscience. Past violence and the ubiquitous potential for new violence makes the museum of conscience necessary.
Riccoeur’s words, however, also raise a concern. He wrote them in reference to a courtroom trial. One of the temptations that museums of conscience face is to function as courtrooms, places where evidence is sifted, perpetrators are sentenced and innocents are exonerated. Museums are not courtrooms, and are ill equipped to provide decisive adjudications of guilt and innocence regarding violence.
The task, then, of the museum of conscience is to create social space within which violence can be brought to light, representatively encountered and ultimately decentered, without becoming an ersatz courtroom. Museums of conscience have two potentialities which courtrooms lack; the capacity to foster empathy, and the capacity to stimulate rich conversations within and between people. The mining of these two potentialities as mutually constructive responses to violence, for me, represents the future of museums of conscience.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: THE MUSEUM OF TOMORROW
by Jean-Yves Gallardo, Director of Communications, The National Museum of Art, Architecture & Design, Norway
‘Forum artist’ is the name the architect Klaus Schuwerk has given his winning proposal for a new building to house Norway’s National Museum, due to open in 2017. As a name for a museum it is well suited to our century.
In planning the museum, we try to imagine how art and audiences might come together five years from now, in an institution that not only houses and cares for a collection, but is also a meeting place of major social significance. In brief: a forum for the arts.
The museum of tomorrow should be able to satisfy the diverse approaches to time and space that its visitors are likely to apply; some will have just fifteen minutes to spare, some a couple of hours, while others will want to spend a whole day there. Should the museum be a white cube for contemplation, a black box for meditation, or a forum for production?
Gaining space and functionality is not enough. Added value lies in creating an environment where it is good to be, an arena for interaction between artwork, visitor, museum and society.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: PROMOTORS OF GLOBAL DIALOGUE
Nick Poole, CEO, The Collections Trust
Society needs museums to provide stability and context. People need museums to provide meaning, identity and entertainment. Industry needs museums to support innovation & development. For these reasons, I see a tremendously positive long-term future for museums worldwide as drivers of economic tourism, agents of social change and promoters of intercultural dialogue and tolerance.
The initial, disruptive generation of technologies will recede, leaving the museum of the future as a fundamentally and naturally hybrid organisation combining collections, technologies and relationships to engage new audiences. There will be less emphasis on digitising everything, and more on delivering value and lasting impact through integrated services.
I can foresee that the definition of ‘museum’ will become blurred – with an increasing number of heritage attractions and public-facing services which package heritage in new ways. While this will create a more competitive environment for individual museums, it will also help with the current oversupply of skilled museum practitioners. It will also provide us with new strategies to address the perennial challenge of stored collections and the relative lack of display space in our museums.
The international museum community is hardworking, professional and dedicated. Collectively, we perform an essential social, economic and personal role. Even though there is a profound lack of recognition of this from Governments in some countries, the value of museums is in the hearts and minds of the public they serve. Museums will continue to adapt to reflect the needs of their communities, and I am tremendously excited about what they have the potential to become.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: MUSEUM ARCHITECTURE
by Ulf Grønvold, Senior Curator, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo
In 1792, three years into the French revolution, the National Convention in Paris decided that a state museum should be established in the Louvre. Museum galleries had been part of royal residences for several centuries, but it was in the first decades of the 19th Century the museum was developed as a building type. For the next hundred years museums were built to more or less look like palaces.
With the arrival of Modernism a new concept was introduced: The informal museum pavilion in an idyllic park. Modern architecture is often at its best in a virgin situation when it doesn’t have to relate to a demanding historic context. And the Kröller Müller Museum in the Netherlands and the Louisiana in Denmark illustrate the success of this approach. Starting with Ronchamp by Le Corbusier architecture became a giant version of modern sculpture. Guggenheim in Bilbao was celebrated as the museum of decade, but when Frank Gehry repeated the same shapes everywhere, it became too private a vocabulary, it was his signature and not buildings based in a lager social context.
The 21st Century should be a period of sense and sobriety. Museums are monuments of lasting values, and our buildings should express that without going back to the metaphor of the palace. We need museum buildings that belong to their location and their community, not the ego of a Star architect on a brief visit.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: GLOBAL MUSEUM COMMUNITY
by Lucy Hockley, Adult Education Officer, Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
A favourite quote of mine is ‘not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child’ (Cicero). Museums have fantastic learning potential and can broaden their visitors’ horizons. This should be shared as widely as possible and explored more fully in the future.
On the other hand, a term often used in the press, ‘community’, is not generally one of my favourite words. Yet, I feel the term ‘museum community’ is used accurately and a just cause for pride at my current organisation, and I’m sure this is the case in many other museums. Issues around well-being and social involvement with heritage organisations are due further future consideration.
In the future I’d like to see museums working in innovative, imaginative ways whilst retaining their core principles. In-depth research and specialist knowledge is vital to underpin other museum activities. Volunteering roles will need to reflect changing models of work to engage wide sections of society and enable people to continue to contribute at different life stages in a way that suits individuals.
As funding cuts continue to be felt and organisations adapt, they will need to search for new sources of income but should resist being overly swayed by funder’s objectives or short-term agendas. Of course museums must show their relevance to society, but they can’t try to be everything to everyone.
Social media and other technologies will encourage museums to form links with others and increased international co-operation is the way forward.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: DIGITAL IMPACT ON MUSEUMS
by David Masters, Lead Consultant, Imagemakers
Museums will continue to evolve and respond to their social, cultural and economic context. New social paradigms, such as the widespread adoption of social networking, together with ever-changing visitor expectations and the opportunities presented by digital media, will all impact on museums.
The near universal adoption of smartphones, for example, will require a considered response, with apps produced for permanent and temporary displays and collections. Computer 3D modelling and animation will vividly bring objects to life. But there will also be a digital backlash, with some people visiting for an ‘authentic’ encounter with a collection.
Curating will increasingly include digital resources, which will be accessed and interpreted on-site and on-line. People will become more involved in the curatorial process through social networking and crowd-sourcing activities. The use of digital media will still be balanced with more traditional forms of display and interpretation, both to meet audience expectations and due to the cost implications of digital technology. Environmental design standards will become more widely adopted, with an emphasis on re-use, modular design, recycled materials, and low energy IT.
Overall, there will be further emphasis on improving access, establishing meaningful narratives for collections and displays, story-led interpretation, and environmental responsibility.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: COLLECTIONS AND COMMUNITIES
by Tracy Puklowski, Senior Operations Manager, Collections and Research, Museum of New Zealand -Te Papa Tongarewa
Museums build their reputations around their collections, and the knowledge and experiences that those collections generate. However, without recognising the real and ongoing connections between collections and communities, museums are only telling half the story. For this reason, I believe that one of the futures of museums (for there are many) revolves around the notion of shared authority.
Rather than giving up curatorial authority, shared authority enhances curatorial knowledge by recognising the significant impact communities (and particularly source communities) can have on our understanding of the collections that we keep in trust on their behalf. In turn, communities benefit from the knowledge that museums build around collections. Objects need multiple and varied voices to tell their stories fully. Source communities, particularly, have social, spiritual, and innate connections to objects – and they accordingly have a right to define that knowledge, and how it is used. This requires the creation of fully reciprocal partnerships between museums and communities, as well as processes that are transparent, accessible, and flexible.
Shared authority requires museums to rethink their role as guardians of collections. Rather than being about guarding or owning collections, guardianship is about using and holding collections responsibly, and this includes the obligation to find new ways of sharing collections - intellectually, physically, and virtually.
Without learning how to explore, understand, and enhance the connections between collections and communities, museums will tell limited stories and consequently limit their futures.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: GUIDED TOURS BY ROBOTS?
by Lin Stafne-Pfisterer, Museum Educator, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway
The future of the museum, I think, will move in parallel directions. Increased digitalisation in all areas of life is already changing museum reality. This will be even more important in the future. Recently, I listened to a science researcher telling children about their digital future. He convinced them, that in 50 years, a robot will wake up the children in the morning, and assist families at home. We’ve heard this before, but these days we see mechanical human look-alikes being developed. Transferred to the museum, it is maybe not that far out to imagine a robot giving a guided tour presenting art works in a museum.
Still, I believe that the digital development will bring exclusivity to museum experiences with personal guides for smaller groups. The handmade art work will perhaps be given an almost reliquary-like value in a growing digital society. Increased development of digital material for exhibitions is perhaps most interesting when recreating the past: creating virtual versions of destroyed buildings, sculptures and artist’s homes that are materially lost.
The growing “edutainment” functions of museums will probably continue, but I hope research based museums will have more sustainability bringing valuable content to their visitors. Last, but not least, I think we will see much more participation from museum visitors, who will be actively involved in the exhibition processes.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: CULTURE OF DIGITAL CREATIVITY
by Steph Mastoris, Head, National Waterfront Museum, Swansea
If the study of the past teaches us anything it is not to trust predictions for the future! So my thoughts about the future of museums are really more about how I feel and hope current technological developments will shape them over the next few decades.
Of course, in any institution worthy of the name “museum” the prime resource is its collections. It will be fascinating, therefore, to see how these artefacts will be made available and experienced as the digital age progresses. While the ease of physical and virtual replication will increase and become more sophisticated, the “magic” of experience of the original, real artefact is bound to become more important to people. In this way we should all be winners.
Such increased access to collections is also bound to improve interpretation. Indeed, the very media that will allow artefacts to be accessed remotely will also provide limitless possibilities for dynamic, user-driven interpretation. Already we are experiencing how sophisticated, multi-layered narratives can be delivered through digital media. And what is equally exciting is that such information uses (in fact demands) material from a wide range of traditional museum disciplines. Digital interpretation is bound to create more joined-up working by museum professionals, so the future museum is surely going to be not only multi-disciplinary, but inter-disciplinary.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: ERA OF THE VIRTUAL MUSEUM
by Christine Conciatori, Content Project Manager, Canadian Museum for Human Rights
In an era where technology and new media seem to evolve faster than we can keep up, what is the future of the museum? We are already living in the era of the virtual museum. Museums are not made of just bricks and mortar. Technology has been entering museums for a number of years already and has changed the face of these institutions. Touch screens and interactivity are now common parts of a museum visit. Furthermore, museums around the world are now accessible on the web and social media is now a part of daily museum life.
Visitors, experienced and knowledgeable with technology, expect museums to follow these trends. They want opportunities to interact with museum content. Visitors’ expectations for rapid change are also increasing. Museums have to address these expectations by being increasingly dynamic.
Museums are also increasingly becoming overt places of dialogue. New technologies are a wonderful way to reach visitors. But, as with any mean of communication, even the best technology has its limitations. Museums must stay relevant to the society of which they serve, they must also work to expand their reach.
Using the web, museums can reach a wider audience, and within this audience, touch a segment of people who have not traditionally been museum goers. However, using technology cannot be simply motivated by the desire to have a “cool app”. Technology is not a goal in itself. It offers a powerful medium to deliver a message, content to the visitor, in person or virtually. The pressure to attract new visitors forces museums to try to be more “seductive”. New technologies may be part of the answer; however, it cannot be empty and devoid of substance. Without a solid message, technology merely becomes a gimmick. The message is what sets museums apart.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
by David Fleming, Director, National Museums Liverpool
The only thing threatening a bright future for museums is museum people themselves, should they fail to persuade the politicians who provide most of the funding for museums that in doing so they are supporting something that has fundamental social and educational importance.
Over the past twenty or so years, museums have begun to come into their own, worldwide, as cultural phenomena that play a number of roles: they have educational power; they have social impacts; they have economic impacts. Museums are valued in all countries for at least one of these roles, and in some countries they are valued for all of them. Consequently, the future for museums should consist of playing these roles, which will vary, obviously, depending upon local circumstances.
The most exciting and valuable role that museums should develop is fighting for social justice – through campaigning for human rights and protection of the environment, and through championing inclusivity. Museums are there to serve the whole of society, and they need to work hard to serve marginalised groups and individuals, not be content with super-serving traditional museum-going audiences.
Funding for museums will ebb and flow, as ever, but a commitment to social justice is the best way in the long term to secure financial support from the rest of society. It’s a commitment that will always be needed, and will always be valued.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: RETHINKING THE MUSEUM
by Alex Saint and Steve Connor, Independent consultants and co-authors of Rethinking The Museum
In Rethinking the Museum, a series of thinkpieces commissioned by NW Fed, we look forward to the year 2030. Read it, debate it, it’s complex and impossible to summarise in a few words. So let’s just take one idea forward here....
We progress the idea that a visit to a museum should be like getting a rush of the hormone oxytocin - the cuddle chemical or empathy-drug - and deliver an extraordinary group hug. Museums as the virtual equivalent of the social-media network, joined-up, connected, commissioned delivery agents for social change, trusted, healing fractures, glueing, bonding - and above all developing our individual and community capacity for real empathy.
Indeed, we’d argue even more strongly now that the desire to create a developed capacity for human empathy should the principal purpose of museums – raised collective empathy and conscience is crucial for the successful re-engineering of our ecologically and economically fractured society, our best way out of seemingly unsolveable social and political drift and rift.
So, in our oxytocin-charged museum, collections are used to foster an understanding of the histories and ideas that matter – of suffering, of self-expression and of achievement, and also to elicit a positive response, to prompt creative conversations, and draw out the desire to share and build a better world, locally and globally. Are these Museums of Social Justice, or Social Enterprise? We prefer to call them Museums of Empathy, which work as hard to bring about a change in attitude or behaviour in the mainstream visitor, the corporate supporter, the cross-sector partner as they do with the disenfranchised communities and individuals that so many museums seek to engage, but too often with limited real or lasting impact.
FUTURE OF MUSEUMS: TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
by Peter Stott, Team Leader Heritage, Falkirk Community Trust
Here’s the ICOM definition of a museum: ‘A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.’
ICOM acknowledges that the definition of a museum evolves ‘in accordance with the realities of the global museum community’. In other words museums themselves need to evolve to survive and prosper in their changing ecosystem.
There is increasing and, despite the efforts of governments, increasingly unavoidable evidence to demonstrate what the change in the ecosystem consists of – resolving the interconnected system of climate change, resource scarcity, failing economic models and social injustice. An accumulating array of cultural bodies – for example Culture Futures, Royal Society of Arts, Museums Association, Mission Models Money and Visual Arts and Galleries Association – recognise, first that economic policy which tries to reignite the growth and consumer-based economic model is folly on a monumental scale, and second that the cultural sector can be part of the solution to the problem if it takes two things on board:
• That the cultural sector can engage with people’s imaginations to facilitate the behavioural change necessary for sustainable living
• That the bricks-and-mortar institutional models of delivery created by the passing ecosystem will not suffice as the basis for prospering in the emerging ecosystem.
This is the ‘big project’ of our era. So what would the next evolutionary stage in the definition of a museum look like? Here’s a proposal:
‘A museum is a public, collective process by which people are enabled, through understanding their relationship to the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, to contribute to the long-term well-being of communities and sustainability of environments, globally and locally.’
Join the project and add your thoughts on the future of museums. Email approx 250 words to firstname.lastname@example.org