Icom museum definition plan moves forward - Museums Association

Icom museum definition plan moves forward

Organisation will vote on proposal in August
Icom Museum Definition
The vote between both definition proposals was extremely close
The vote between both definition proposals was extremely close

The International Council of Museums' (Icom) lengthy process to adopt a new definition of a museum has taken a step forward with the organisation choosing a proposal that will be voted on at its general conference in Prague in August.

Icom's advisory council agreed to adopt Proposal B (see below) to take forward to its conference in Prague. The vote between Proposal A and B was extremely close, implying that the issue is still controversial.

The organisation, which has its headquarters in Paris, first published a new definition in July 2019. But at Icom's general assembly in Kyoto in September the same year, the national and international committees agreed to postpone the vote on the proposed new museum definition.

This started the process to find a new definition to replace the one that was rejected. This was carried out by the Icom Standing Committee for the Museum Definition, Prospect and Potentials and was based on four rounds of consultation, divided into 11 steps, and lasted 18 months. 

The new museum definition proposals were discussed at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting in a session held 20 May, the same day as the vote in Paris. A number of concerns were raised, including the exclusion of "natural heritage" in Proposal B and describing museums as "permanent" and "not-for-profit" in both proposals.

Concerns were also raised at the AAM session about the use of "professionally" and the way that "not-for-profit" was translated into Spanish.

Icom's current definition of a museum was adopted in 2007 (see below).

Current definition

A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

Proposal A

A museum is a permanent, not-for-profit institution, accessible to the public and of service to society. It researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible cultural and natural heritage in a professional, ethical and sustainable manner for education, reflection and enjoyment. It operates and communicates in inclusive, diverse and participatory ways with communities and the public.

Proposal B

A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.

Definition rejected in 2019
“Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people. Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.”

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