What role should museums have today? What are they like? What should they be like? We asked the students on the Postgraduate Course in Museum Management to reflect on these questions when they were still in the first term. The result was a first-rate collection of ideas, criticisms, questions and suggestions. What we offer you here is a selection — hard to make, I can assure you! — grouped by sub-theme. As you will see, in some of their formulations they have really put into practice what we asked them to do in applying a critical eye. You will also see that there are conflicting opinions. That is the strength and the beauty of collective participation — a participation that we in the museums are still learning to encourage and integrate.
So as not breach any blogger laws about the length of articles, this post will be in two parts.
Some flashes about museums
To start off, a few brief flashes of how the students see the museums and what they have to offer:
- An essentially social institution
- Open museum
- Creator of experiences and knowledge
- Spaces of memory for the future
- Useful and necessary to society
- Preserve integrity of object
- Learn to adapt to the times, evolve, ‘stop being an institution anchored in the past’
- Provide different levels of information, facilitate self-learning
- Explore new meanings, generate alternative discourses
- Understand the real demands of the audiences
- Encourage repeat visits
- Have a clear project
- Increasing link between museums and creativity
- Helping to form a critical gaze
- Creating community
And some challenges/questions:
- Balance between public funding and self-financing
- Are there too many museums? Sustainability
- How can we generate quality participation?
- Standardization in the museums
The 21st-century museum
‘The 21st-century museum must be an active, modern institution, connected to its local community and to the world. It should research on its own and in collaboration with other institutions. It should transmit this knowledge to experts, to amateurs, to tourists, to the curious, to the ignorant, to young people, to children, to grandmas and grandpas… In short, it should be a space that we all want to enjoy.’
‘The museum must continue to preserve the heritage, the future should be focused on making the public participants with their own experiences, it should be a space for stimulating the senses, open to generating new critical tools.’
‘The museum is the place of exhibition, custody and conservation of a memory, whether it works of art or of any other kind, a place of learning, a place of debate and, in short, a place of communication.’
Tate Modern, London. Photo: Conxa Rodà
‘The museum “will be” and will have relevance in the world to come not to the extent that it contains objects of value but in its ability to affirm their value in the contemporary world and this will be achieved by breaking out of the walls of the museum and projecting the museum outwards, to the world, to the network. […] The most radical and valuable discourses will come from the periphery.’
‘A museum has to be dynamic, open and attractive, somewhere a lot of things happen (always with sense and discernment). Otherwise there will still be these two divisions: the so-called “star museums” (Bruno Frey), which are a “must-see” for the masses, and the rest that are just there without making a noise’.
‘We are moving from the culture of production and exhibition to the culture of research. It is no longer so much about great museums where the art object is consecrated. Nowadays, the artistic discourse is more and more about a transition towards art as process, as a way of understanding.’
Mar de P.
‘The museums should be tending towards the model of network culture or cloud culture. A nebula model in which the important things are participation, partnership, interactivity, sharing knowledge, innovation and decentralization.’
‘After reading lots and lots of books and listening to people like Pepe Serra and Nina Simon, my perception of the museum as an institution has changed. I’ve realized that the museum has to generate debate and foster experiences, constantly creating and constructing languages […] making you question things. It should contribute to creating a critical mind in society.’
‘In the museum there still prevails the attitude of the container — the one-way source of information […] The museum needs to have the open attitude with which to reinvent itself, to respond to the expectations of society without leaving anyone out, avoiding triviality.’
‘Evolution of the concept and image of the museum, which has gone from being a passive container of art to an active information resource.’
‘[…] Also to highlight the scientific role of the museum today. There needs to be a commitment to further increasing the dissemination of its research. In short, to make the laboratories, if there are any, a recognizable part of the museum.’
The reserve collections and the restoration workshop of the Museum of Art of Catalonia, MNAC, visited during the course
‘[…] We make them genuine centres of dialogue where debate is generated about the conception, production and presentation of works and a platform is created for public participation and dialogue between the art world and society.’
An increasingly less ‘permanent’ collection
‘The collection: a heritage which requires new methods and means of exhibition […] There should be as many viewpoints as there are visitors. We need to look beyond the aesthetics, to present stripped-down objects that can be dressed in different ways and treat them as multifaceted elements in tension with their environment, as generators of questions.’
‘A lot of museums are rethinking the criteria of their permanent display and looking to modify it. It’s no longer a question of ordering works of art by school and year of creation, or natural objects by the traditional classification, but of expressing a new story.’
‘We should prioritize an awareness of the museum’s own collection.’
‘As far as possible the collection should keep moving. It should never be entirely “permanent” […] works from outside combined with the museum’s own creates new discourses, interrogates the works, sets them in dialogue and creates new points of view and ways of thinking.’
‘The model of museum that simply displays its collection is no longer valid. The future is in the museum as a space of participation.’
‘The information that is always there at the moment, the labels, is often the least interesting information for the visitor, it rarely offers any real added value or keys to real understanding. And the less you know about the subject the less relevant it is.’
‘The museum should make a thoroughly contemporary interpretation of its collection […] in a state of continuous renewal, managing to extract from its holdings new visions and insights that make it a dynamic entity.’
Attracting interest? Tough mission… Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Conxa Rodà
‘Sometimes there can be a certain déjà vu in the museum, in that some have gone on for too long with an immobile and static expository discourse.’
‘A complete digitization of the collections and a strategic plan to facilitate its dissemination and facilitate interaction with the spectator — ordinary citizen, researcher, artist — is the only way to adding value to the historic collections.’
‘The museums should be able to generate a new language with their collection; they have to manage to go beyond the current and, in a way, classic language.’
Thought-provoking, right? If this is how the future managers of our museums see things, we’ve come a long way!
In a forthcoming article we will see what the students had to say about the public, the networks and management.
Co-Director of the Postgraduate Course in Museum Management