The policy column

What defines a museum?
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Sharon Heal
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It’s a brave organisation that tries to define anything, so hats off to the International Council of Museums, which has unveiled the result of its consultation on the definition of a museum.

The rather wordy outcome is: “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 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.”

It feels like a move in the right direction and is more up to date than the MA’s old-fashioned and passive definition from 1998: “Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.”

But how about something snappier, such as the MA’s vision for the sector: “Museums are inclusive, participatory, socially engaged and at the heart of their communities.”

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