Voxpop: What should stay or go in Icom’s proposed museum definition? - Museums Association

Voxpop: What should stay or go in Icom’s proposed museum definition?

The International Council of Museums (Icom) has restarted the process of finding a new museum definition after disagreement over the …
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The International Council of Museums (Icom) has restarted the process of finding a new museum definition after disagreement over the wording of its previous proposal. At the council’s Extraordinary General Meeting in Kyoto last September, the national and international committees agreed to postpone a vote on the new definition until a consensus could be found.

Ellie Miles, documentary curator, London Transport Museum

“During this pandemic, museums will change alongside society. Museums will be restructured and remade in the months and years to come. Icom’s aspirational definition outlines what museums might be able to become. I think the word missing is “care”. Care with people, places, stories, things. We do something different than the crucial work of carers and healthcare professionals, but nonetheless museums are places where we look after things for people, where we take care over what we do, where we keep some of society’s memories.”

François Mairesse, professor of museology, Sorbonne Université

“The definition of Kyoto was very divisive, having taken almost nothing from the terms of previous definitions created over the decades. It was a fine mission statement for a museum, but not a definition as used by Unesco or the national laws of several countries, which is its role. Starting again with the 2007 definition, seeking to explain each of the terms and making it part of a continuity in order to better integrate new policies – sustainability, social role, inclusion, etc – would seem to me to be a more inclusive process for the museum community.”

Helen Atkinson, visitor experience officer, Jewish Museum London

“Museums are a collaborative effort of staff and volunteers, telling stories of diverse groups throughout history, but people are put off by the use of inaccessible language, such as ‘polyphonic’. The enjoyment of visitors should be recognised. One of the main aims of every museum is to provide an enjoyable experience as well as an educational one. The diverse nature of activities at museums illustrates this. Icom should recognise the role of museums as one not purely based around academia, but to provide a fun experience for all who come into the museum.”

Mark O'Neill, museum consultant

"A key criticism of the new definition was that it incorporated values and a vision of what museums should be, rather than being a description of functions.  But the current definition says, ‘in the service of society’, implying both vision and values.  The new definition must state the values museums should uphold – Icom is part of Unesco, and thus founded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and based ultimately on Enlightenment principles. Relating the requirements of a legal definition with a statement of values is a matter of drafting."

Anna Garnett, curator, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL
"Museums mean different things to different people, at different times in their lives. The idea of a ‘museum definition’ is restrictive: these words should instead be seen as guiding principles, or as a mission statement. It is clear that the revised version should use more inclusive language: the word ‘polyphonic’ could be reconsidered for example. It is also important that any interested party should be able to vote on the new definition — not only those who can afford to attend the Icom meeting — which would make it much more ‘democratic’."

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