The future is now

Maurice Davies, 25.07.2012
 Museums 2020 consultation: help us shape the future
For the past few months, my work at the MA has been dominated by preparing the Museums 2020 discussion paper. Finally, it’s finished and you can read it here.

It's already generated some lively ideas, suggestions from MA members and some controversy.

I anticipate more controversy - the MA board wants Museums 2020 to lead discussion about the future of museums, to provoke hard thinking so museums can thrive in difficult times.

In 2013, it plans to build on the discussion paper and your responses, to launch a bold vision of the future of museums and their impact.

That word impact is the key to Museums 2020 thinking. Impact means the difference museums make - to people, communities, to wider society and to the environment. And starting by thinking about museums' impacts (rather than their collections, staff or buildings) led to some unexpected conclusions.

The most startling of these is the thought that permanent displays may not be the best way of having an impact. Once, back in the encyclopaedic 19th and 20th centuries, carefully planned, unchanging permanent galleries may have worked.

And over the past 15 years museums have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on redisplaying many of them, probably taking permanent displays as far as they can go.

But thinking about the impacts museums want to have makes permanent galleries seem expensive and inflexible, incapable of responding to changing public interests and needs.

If you have an absolutely fantastic collection and mainly one-time-only tourist visitors then permanent displays may be appropriate. But if you want to engage repeatedly and deeply with diverse local audiences, and open up to a wide range of views, they may be a bit obsolete.

There’s lots more to thrill or enrage you in the discussion paper - and please let us have your views.

Respond to what others are saying or post your thoughts.

Read the paper and send a formal response, come to a free Museums 2020 workshop and join in the Museums 2020 theme at conference 2012.

We look forward to hearing from you!