There has been a lot of discussion recently about the current debate surrounding the future of museums.
Of particular interest in this regard is this summer’s debate between the directors of the British Museum and the Tate, Neil MacGregor and Nicholas Serota, and now that the Museu Picasso has just presented the new programme and new lines of action, which are beginning to become a reality, I would like to offer one or two of my own thoughts on the subject.
The museum as a centre of production and space of dialogue. The first thing that is needed is an exercise of self-criticism, in order to move on once and for all from the simplistic conception of the museum as a repository of heritage and offer more heterogeneous and more complex proposals, in keeping with the diversity of today’s public(s). In recent years, society has been evolving increasingly rapidly while museums have changed very little; they have not kept pace, many are still offering cultural products that are too static and rigid.
On the left, the Director of the Museu Picasso welcoming representatives of the Board of the MoMA, May 2009. Photo: Jordi MotaThe On the right, Night of Museums, 2009
The challenge facing our museums today, with large collections and visitor-oriented programmes, is to become centres of production. This really is the starting point, not only for the future but right now. The museum has to become a place where ideas and knowledge are generated, a place where programmes are created, and for this to happen there has to be a project: it is essential to be clear about what is to be done and, above all, to do things that make sense. Then, having defined the project, we must be able to build bridges with the public and open up lines of research while making sure each project is allowed to adopt the most appropriate format – an exhibition, a publication, a seminar, an activity or whatever.
On the left, the exhibition Forgetting Velázquez. Las Meninas. On the right, a group of schoolchildren at the Museum.
The museum in touch with its surroundings and as a centre of influence. The second thing is the self-evident fact that the future of the museum entails a networked presence, connecting with the environment and becoming much more than a mere supplier of contents. The idea of the internet as a place that simply reflects the museum’s programme, giving a lateral view of what is going on in the exhibition rooms, has long been out of date and is now redundant. As the internet comes to be an increasingly organized fabric, the museums can take advantage of the resources it offers to obtain feedback and keep ourselves in close contact with our surroundings; the museum that fails to do so is in danger of becoming isolated and losing not only influence but social legitimacy. Our users are on the social networks, and museums have to be there, too, with a distinctive presence of our own.
We are still at a very volatile point, a point at which we must decide what tools and instruments promise to be most effective in providing our users with new knowledge. And we must make the most of these resources to generate new spaces for dialogue and maintain open contact with the world around us 365 days a year, 24 hours a day – a free, live channel that allows the museum to know whether people are really benefiting from these experiences of value. Our museums can develop specific projects for the internet and some of these tools promise to make debating, discussing, expressing ideas and putting together projects on the internet standard practice. Not to mention the fact that the internet also enables us to overcome the limitations imposed by physical space when it comes to presenting our collections: at the Museu Picasso we have more than 3,000 works, which we cannot possibly exhibit all at once for reasons of space. Thanks to the exceptional quality of digital reproduction today, the internet makes all of this wealth of materials accessible online.
The professional network: the museums connected. Though there is nothing new about museums collaborating with one another on joint projects or exhibitions, active networking between museums is increasingly vital: within a year or two any museum that does not work in parallel with others and keep its place in the loop will risk losing its influence as a cultural agent.
With the internet taking off as a social revolution and a democratizing force, the Museu Picasso cannot miss the chance to explore the new avenues that are opening up before us. Although there is still some resistance and some scepticism, if we turn our backs on these new opportunities we will be denying ourselves access to an experience of value. In fact much of the difficulty here often lies inside the museum itself, in the form of conservative attitudes or an entrenched old guard: the museum of the future needs to bring about a certain change of mentality and of organizational structure because it needs a different and much more transverse way of working, calling for greater effort and absolute transparency.
I recently read a blog that responded to the question of which museums will be relevant to our lives and our society 50 years from now: ‘Those whose purpose extends from a collection of objects or exhibitions in physical space and then can find the ways to connect that physical mission with the personal network of meaning we each own and share through new channels which are instantaneous, virtual and ephemeral.’ (Rohn Jay Miller’s blog, Thinking About the Future of Museums, 27 Sept 09). I totally agree.
At the Museu Picasso we are firmly committed to working in close contact with the world around us. In our own exhibition spaces and on the internet. With the young and the elderly. With the curious and with experts. With local people and with people on the other side of the planet. Because the museum is a public asset and as a public asset it should invite people to enjoy it in many different places and in many different ways. With your comments, with your criticisms, we will keep on improving it every day.
What would you like to find when you visit the Picasso? What services or activities do you think a museum should offer?