The museum movement

Sharon Heal, 11.07.2018
A new wave of radical thinking is sweeping across the sector
Museums appear to be having a bit of a moment of late.

Across the UK reports, reviews, conferences and policy documents are debating the future of the sector. From the draft Scottish Culture Strategy to the Museums Taskforce and the English Civic Museums Network Thinkpiece, there’s lots of debate about how to secure the future of the sector.
Unsurprisingly many of the reports draw the same conclusions: that museums need to be more relevant and connected to their communities, that they have to sort out their collections and that funding is a critical issue.

But what’s potentially more interesting is the number of grassroots networks and events that are popping up, bubbling under and exploring some of the tougher and more challenging issues that the sector and society faces.

The lack of workforce (and audience) diversity is being actively exposed by groups such as Museum Detox, a network for black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage professionals, and Museum as Muck, a Facebook group for people from working class backgrounds who work in museums.

Gender inequality is tackled by groups and platforms such as #MuseumAgenda, Space Invaders and Network for Change.

And then there are the conferences, seminars and other interventions that are challenging the mainstream. London Metropolitan Archives has its Edgy conference exploring outsider history and the power of the margins later this year; the Radical Local Histories Conference at the Lit & Phil library in Newcastle takes place in October, and a new collaboration between Leicester School of Museum Studies and the Wellcome Collection is looking at how museums can make space for disruption and disorder. 

The thing that they all have in common is desire for change, in organisations, in the workforce and in relationships and connections with the public.

Of course it’s possible to be a pretty traditional organisation that’s been kicking around for a long time (circa 130 years) and still be radical. That’s what the Museums Association has been doing the past few years with our flagship campaign, Museums Change Lives, and our vision for inclusive museums at the heart of their communities.

This year we’re taking it to the next level with the theme of Dissent; Inspiring Hope and Embracing Change at our annual conference and there’s no better place than Belfast to do that.

Maybe this is more than a moment – maybe it’s a museum movement.