What makes a museum, a museum in the 21st century? This is a transformative moment in the history of museums. Traditionally, the museums have been defined by the functions of collecting, preserving, documenting, researching, exhibiting and in other ways, communicating and interpreting evidence of human culture and history for the benefit of everyone. But what is the future of museums in a fast-changing world of economic uncertainty, social disruption, health challenges and climate change? Can museums reflect the accountability and transparency under which they are expected to acquire and use their material, financial, social, and intellectual resources?
What Is a Museum? Perspectives from National and International Museum Leaders shares perspectives from dedicated professionals investigating how museums can meet their ethical, political, social, cultural, and environmental responsibilities in the years to come. In a series of essays, well-known leaders in the museum sector and related fields contribute to our understanding of the current and future challenges facing museums around the world. ICOM-US Co-Chair and Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G. Bunch III, summarizes the issues and provides guidance for the future of museums.
Questions explored include:
This book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in why museums matter today, what their future holds, and how to change them
Kate Quinn has been working and teaching in the museum field for close to two decades. As Director of Exhibitions and Special Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, she directed more than 100 special exhibitions and gallery projects, most with an international focus. In 2020 she was appointed the Executive Director of the Michener Art Museum. She is a Master Lecturer in the Museum Studies program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and is Co-Chair of the Programming Committee for the United States National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-US).
Alejandra Peña Gutiérrez has been working for 30 years as a visual arts and museum professional. Her career started in Mexico City where she worked at various museums before she became director of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes. She was General Deputy Director of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico; Director of the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. In 2021 she was appointed Director of the Weisman Art Museum of the University of Minnesota. Peña Gutiérrez is Co-Chair of the Programming Committee for ICOM-US, she is also a member of the Risk Management Standing Committee of ICOM General
Created in 1946, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) is a non-governmental organization maintaining formal relations with UNESCO and having a consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. ICOM also partners with entities such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, Interpol, and the World Customs Organization in order to carry out its international public service missions, which include fighting illicit traffic in cultural goods and promoting risk management and emergency preparedness to protect world cultural heritage in the event of natural or man-made disasters.
By: Kate Quinn
Part One: What is a Museum?
Chapter 1: Overview
By Alejandra Peña Gutierrez
Chapter 2: Public Trust at American Museums Today: Observations and Priorities
By Thomas Loughman
Chapter 3: How Do We Center People in Museums?
By Elaine Heumann Gurian
Chapter 4: Museums Must Be More: : ICOM’s Definition of “Museum” Needs to Take into Account How the Field Has Changed and Where It Is Heading
By W. Richard West
Part Two: Safe Places or Social Spaces?
Chapter 5: Safe Places or Social Spaces?
By Diana Pardue
Chapter 6: On Museums and Place: Alejandra Peña Gutierrez with Andrés Roldán
Chapter 7: Yes, And: Museums as Safe Places AND Social Spaces
By Linda Norris
Chapter 8 :Crossing Museum Boundaries: From Gallery Space to Protest Place
By Ihor Poshyvailo
Part Three: The Function of Collecting
Chapter 9: The Functions of Collecting: An Inquiry
By William Eiland
Chapter 10: KonMari in the Museum: Collecting Front, Center and Back
By Danielle Kuijten
Chapter 11: On Museums and Collecting: Kate Quinn with Anne Pasternak
Chapter 12: Beyond Colonial Collecting
By Tukufu Zuberi
Part Four: The Whiteness of Museums
Chapter 13: The Whiteness of Museums
By Lyndel King
Chapter 14: What Makes a Museum, A Museum: From the African Experience
By George Okello Abungu
Chapter 15:The Work is Never Done: Reckoning and Reparation in Museums
By Christopher Bedford
Chapter 16: “Dysmantaling” a Museum
By Christina Woods
Part Five: Museums as Influencers
Chapter 17 :Museums as Influencers
Chapter 18: To Be of Influence Starts with Being Open to Influence
By Kelly McKinley
Chapter 19: Can a New Definition Convert Museums into Influencers?
By Lauran Bonilla-Merchav and Bruno Burlon Soares
Chapter 20: Redefine the Museum: Making a Case for Embracing Our Inner Agent of Change
By Lisa Sasaki
Part Six: Crisis: Environmentalism, Sustainability and Museums
Chapter 21: Beyond Crisis: Museums and Sustainability
Chapter 22: Imagining Another World at the National Public Housing Museum
By Lisa Yun Lee
Chapter 23: Weaving New Narratives: Museums and Sustainable Futures
By Morien Rees
Chapter 24: The Museum’s Role in the Global Effort to Create a World Where Everyone and Everything Can Thrive
By Sarah Sutton
Part Seven: What Now/Now What?
Chapter 25: Seizing the Moment: The Evolution of the 21st- Century Museum
By Lonnie G. Bunch, III
About the Contributors
About the Editors
Only a decade ago, few would have questioned the legitimacy of museums. Today few wouldunhesitatingly rush to their defense. This seismic shift in opinion emanates from a dissipation oftrust in institutions generally, exacerbated by tone-deafness among cultural leaders. This volumeof thoughtful essays distills the obligations facing museum leaders in the present and future, from implementing fair labor practices to embracing surrounding communities, to combating climate change. It will serve as an essential primer to understand museums—and, we may hope,stimulate more enlightened attitudes and behaviors on the part of those in charge.
The outset of 2020’s dual pandemics – a global public health pandemic, and U.S. racial equity and justice pandemic that has seen reverberations across the globe – remain unresolved in 2022. These revealing essays highlight immediate urgencies across the museum field - urgencies that both historically and still continue to unequally burden our colleagues, stakeholders, conventional audiences/communities as well as those who have historically been ignored. But contributors equally inform this volume with their experiential 'long view', making it clear that these issues are not new at all, that the cultural and financial dominance of a single “museum” model cannot reflect 21st century realities. What IS new at present is the depth and the globalized breadth of a demand for change, from both within the field and from broad sectors of our publics.
In provocative, thoughtful, and probing essays, practitioners from around the world explore the potential for museums, as guardians of our shared human heritage, to be agents of transformation. While perspectives vary, the common thread is a passionate call for museums to use their platforms as safe and trustworthy spaces to inspire learning – and motivate action – about the most critical issues of our time: social equity, economic justice, and the future of our planet. As “stewards of global memory” (to borrow a phrase from author Morien Rees), museums are uniquely positioned to deliver meaningful encounters with the authenticity of human experience. They are communal places for discovery (and reminders) of the essence of what makes us human – in all its variety and complexity – so that we can better understand ourselves and our potential, indeed our obligation, to create a better and truly sustainable future for the generations that will follow us.
What is a Museum? is an essential read for both emerging and seasoned museum professionals alike. At once scholarly and accessible, it provides a range of thoughtful essays that capture the breadth and depth of current thinking in this field. Driven by ICOM’s United States National Committee, and written primarily for an American audience, this work nevertheless pulls together a broad geographic range of authors, from ICOM’s deep pool of thought leaders. Its response to conversations about the definition of museums is timely. In a world that increasingly needs the kind of positive influence that museums can provide, considerations of topics such as repatriation, sustainably and social justice are particularly relevant. As Lonnie Bunch (Chapter 25) says in his final remarks '…museums of all kinds have the obligation to use our expertise and platforms for the greater good. We can and must reach more people, be more relevant to their lives, and have a more profound impact.' This book is an important contributor to that vision.