Editorial

Catch election fever to show your relevance
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Simon Stephens
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Last year’s buzzword was most definitely “resilience”, which ran through practically everything that museums did, as the sector continued to battle with the impact of cuts in public sector funding.

The word was so important that Arts Council England named one of its key grant-giving schemes the Museum Resilience Fund.

There was a Resilience Room at last year’s Museums Association annual conference in Cardiff and what being a resilient museum means for organisations was hotly debated in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere.

So what will be the buzzword for 2015? Museums will definitely want to build on their resilience plans, but will other issues move up the agenda?

One of the biggest events in 2015 will obviously be the general election in May. But what will it mean for museums?

There was a feeling among some in the sector that museums could have done more to engage with last year’s Scottish independence referendum and the strength of feeling it created.

For this year’s election, the People’s History Museum has developed Election! Britain Votes, an exhibition that opens next month. By following the event as it happens with live feeds, broadcasts and evolving statistics, the Manchester museum aims to become a place where visitors debate, discuss and reflect on the importance of their vote.

In April, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum will open All of This Belongs to You, an exhibition examining the role of public institutions in contemporary life. The museum hopes to act as a kind of laboratory for public life by exploring the role design and architecture have in defining areas such as civic identity, citizenship and democracy.

It doesn’t feel as if a whole lot is going to change for museums, whoever wins the election. At least as far as funding goes, all the main parties seem committed to the austerity agenda to a greater or lesser degree.

But by engaging with contemporary issues such as the election, museums can at least show they are relevant to people’s lives. And there aren’t that many issues that are more important than the future of democracy.

Simon Stephens, acting editor, Museums Journal

simon@museumsassociation.org

www.twitter.com/simonastephens




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