Notes of a discussion of this principle from the Happy Museum paper at the Symposium

This principle inspired a wide-ranging discussion.  The starting point was the kind of relationship with which, whether as a museum or funder, we were all familiar – a partnership, probably established for a particular project, perhaps motivated by the need to attract funding (and depressing examples were given of partnerships established purely to secure funding).  We asked ?

What mechanisms do museums use to identify potential partners?

Often, developing existing contacts

How do museums make new contacts?

There can be a tendancy to work with easy partners – perhaps sometimes we should ask ourselves who would be the most challenging partner?

How can museums open the way for potential future relationships?

We moved on to consider other types of relationship, relationships where the museum can be a passive – or even a reluctant – partner.  A fascinating example was the alternative trail around the Tate produced by ‘Platform’ to protest against the gallery’s acceptance of BP sponsorship [I looked this up subsequently – it can be found HERE].

A quite different example would be the Flickr group established for photographs of the Weald and Downland Museum which was set up independently of the museum.

It is clear that groups or individuals can have relationships with a museum which happily bypass the people employed (or volunteering) there.  Social networking has opened new opportunities for this kind of organic, independent, outside-in, relationship.  Which led us to ask ?

It the relationship is not always with the people employed on behalf of, or formally responsible for, the institute or the collection then who or what is it with?

The collection?the building or space? the institution ?the tradition?’museumness’ (see below)??

What do people want to use the museum for?

What does the museum bring to the relationship?

Listening ?understanding ?collections ?public space??

A relationship might be institutional or very personal.

The museum is not always the partner in control

We also wondered ?

To what extent does being employed on behalf of and/or being responsible for, a collection bestow the right or the responsibility to dictate how it is used?

Who owns the collections?

What are they for?

Who makes the decisions about them?

There is a natural fear of loss of control.  We asked ?

(Where) do we draw the line?

What about issues of ?     quality control

historical accuracy

sharing academic expertise?

The point was made that over recent years museums and galleries have been moving away from the authoritative voice.

And that museums are less inclined than they were to try to control their visitors – this can be seen, for instance, in changing attitudes to visitors taking photographs in galleries.

What about the museum’s responsibility to those who made and used the items in the collection, who gave them their role in society before they were deposited in the museum?

The point was made that the museum has a job to do – a reason why it was established in the first place – a core purpose – an essential ‘museumness’ and it is easy for this to get lost.

Who makes the decisions about the organisation? It is important for this to be clear at the outset of any relationship

The enormous topic of ethics and ethical behaviour only came up towards the end of the discussion and it was clear that there was a lot more which could be said on this.  We noted that big donors often bring ethical challenges, and asked?

Whose money will we take?


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