If you jump on a bandwagon, hold onto the reins - Museums Association

If you jump on a bandwagon, hold onto the reins

The United Nations has used International Years to raise awareness of global issues for half a century. Other organisations also …
Paolo Viscardi
Share
The United Nations has used International Years to raise awareness of global issues for half a century. Other organisations also use year-long themed campaigns to promote understanding of important concepts by responding to topical issues or by celebrating anniversaries of notable achievements, people or events.

For museums, such campaigns can be a good focus for public engagement, but the danger is that they become little more than marketing ploys that detract from efforts to develop more sustainable ways of working. Sceptics may ask whether it is possible to deliver legacy by jumping on a bandwagon.

It is a valid question. Museums are the custodians of our cultural and scientific heritage and maintaining that legacy takes precedence over catering to the trends that sweep through wider society.

While safeguarding the future of our heritage is a priority, making that heritage accessible and pertinent to the present is also essential if museums are to maintain their relevance and attract essential funding.

In 2009 the Horniman Museum and Gardens used the Darwin bicentenary to develop legacy resources and further institutional goals.

The Darwin200 coordinators at the Natural History Museum helped participants to collaborate with other organisations, allowing the exploration of new methods of engagement that drew on the strengths of the various partners.

The Darwin bicentenary also provided a focus that made available funding strands that would not normally be considered, resulting in a Wellcome Trust People’s Award grant of £30,000. This allowed us to develop new learning resources, interpretation and events that improved science engagement.

The resources were created in a way that retained their relevance into the future, while developing new methods of work has informed longer-term plans for audience engagement.

Despite there being a genuine legacy arising from campaigns such as the Darwin bicentenary, they will involve some transitory work that evaporates when the next campaign comes along. It is important to minimise this squandered effort by disseminating experiences after a campaign ends, to help inform future work.

Campaigns can be an excellent way to develop legacies, but museums need to interact with the wider project, rather than keeping everything in-house. It requires clear objectives, flexibility and forward planning.

The bandwagon can deliver a legacy, but only if museums take the initiative and jump into the driving seat with a clear destination in mind.

Paolo Viscardi is the deputy keeper of natural history at the Horniman Museum, London.

  • For more information on museums’ involvement in the Darwin bicentenary see NatSCA News, Issue 19. pp.54-59: natsca.info/



Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post a comment.

Discover

Advertisement