Elma Hasimbegovic and Miguel Amado

Mima's senior curator describes museum's 'user-led' philosophy

Gareth Harris, 09.11.2015
Using art as a tool for social change
Miguel Amado, the senior curator at the Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art (Mima), said Mima’s new “user-led” philosophy means the museum is tapping into topical concerns and reflecting current events.

Speaking at Radical Futures, a session at the Museums Association's conference, Amado said: “There is a shift in the way we understand art and a need to go beyond art for art’s sake and see it as a tool for social change.

“We must break the boundaries between art and life. We want to go beyond the idea of visitors as participants—they are users in the space.”

To this end, Mima operates as an accessible, community-based “useful museum” under director Alistair Hudson who was appointed in October last year.

Next year, there are plans to open an exhibition focusing on production and ecology, relating to the recent closure of the Redcar steelmaking plant on Teesside. “We are trying to re-make the gallery in the citizenship model,” Amado said.

How museums and galleries could develop, and benefit from, this model, was discussed at length by Jon Alexander, director of the New Citizenship Project (described on its website as a “social innovation lab” that aims to “change the story of the consumer as the main role of the individual in society, and to reclaim the idea of the citizen”).

“Museums, which are places for thought and potential action, are powerfully inventing this new era,” said Alexander, who analysed how membership schemes are evolving across museums and other organisations, such as the National Trust. “Membership has become a product but can it include an emotional component and be an expansion of an organisation’s values?” he asked.

The most sober reminder of how museums can be social and cultural beacons came from Elma Hasimbegovic, the director of the Historical Museum of Bosnia Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

Her institution houses wartime mementoes and objects submitted by the citizens of Sarajevo which have now become “common property”. When asked by the chair Tony Butler, the executive director of Derby Museums Trust, what is the most important quality for a civic space, she simply replied: “Freedom”.