What are museums for?
I’ve been meaning for a while to go through this whole essay and challenge the author but I wonder if it’s worth it, as he is so much in the minority. Even the more traditional curators who believe like he does that the prime purpose of museums is to collect, study, preserve and display heritage artefacts, are more open than he is to different (even relativist) interpretations and many are beginning to recognise the benefits of working closely with education staff, widening access and trying new interpretation techniques and technologies. It’s a too simple dualism to see a battle in museums between those who believe the purpose is to collect and those who believe the purpose is to educate and entertain everyone. Those who care about museum’s educational role are often also passionate about the collections and the role of conservation. They want to expand the definition of purpose from ‘collect, preserve, study, display’ to ‘collect, preserve, study, display, interpret and invite new interpretations’. It is an enrichment of the role of museums. Post-modernism is not just a trendy French theory, and it’s not the only theory that helps us rethink museums. Post-colonialism provides us with tools to examine how cultures are formed and reformed through exchange and how artefacts play a significant role in this. Yes, some museum displays can be a bit brash, a bit too noisy, a bit daft and dumb. But I know that, compared to TV, most museums and exhibitions make me think more deeply about big issues, provide more chances for people to provide their own views, stimulate me to learn more. Museums in the UK are a great success story and don’t deserve such a carping review. Ignore this essay and look out instead for the Guardian’s Kids in Museums campaign, the nominees of the Gulbenkian award or Museums & Galleries Month now (May).