Icom members approve new museum definition - Museums Association

Icom members approve new museum definition

Vote comes three years after previous proposal was rejected due to ideological divisions
Icom Museum Definition
The definition was approved at Icom’s general conference in Prague
The definition was approved at Icom’s general conference in Prague Image: Thomas Depenbusch (Depi) via Flickr

A new museum definition has been adopted by the International Council of Museums (Icom) at its general conference in Prague, Czech Republic.

The proposal was approved by members at the council’s Extraordinary General Meeting on 24 August, with more than 92% voting in favour of adopting the new wording.

It follows an 18-month participatory process that involved hundreds of museum professionals from 126 national Icom committees across the world.

The new museum definition

“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.”

In a statement, Icom said: “This new definition is aligned with some of the major changes in the role of museums, recognising the importance of inclusivity, community participation and sustainability.”

A new president and executive board was also voted through at the conference. Emma Nardi was elected as Icom president, replacing outgoing president Alberto Garlandini.


She will join the rest of the Icom board members elected for the term 2022-25. The new board includes UK representative Steph Scholten, director of the Hunterian museum in Glasgow.

The governance will meet in due course to set the next steps for the implementation of the new definition, in collaboration with the council’s museum definition committee. Icom said that “inclusion, transparency and participation will remain in the heart of this new phase”.

The vote comes three years after Icom’s previous proposed definition became an ideological battleground between so-called reformers, who wanted new wording that recognised the social role of museums, and conservatives, who were reluctant to stray too far from the existing 2007 definition. The proposal was also criticised for inaccessible language and its failure to mention museums’ role in education.

The council decided to rethink the proposal after a heated debate at Icom’s Kyoto conference in 2019.

The dispute led to several resignations among the council’s executive board and committee members, including its former president.

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