Imagining Museums in 2030

A local project invited me to write an article on culture for an imaginary newspaper in 2030. It got me thinking about what I hope (German) museums will be like then [1]. Here are my thoughts.

 

In 2030, as soon as I step through the doors of a museum, it is clear that this is a place for discussing the past, negotiating the present and imagining the future. This is a lively space, open and welcoming, with stuff going on right there in the entrance area. In the exhibition, it’s obvious that the relevant (heritage) communities have had a huge say in creating this space. There is transparency: I always know whose voice I am hearing when. Polyvocality is everywhere, giving me the opportunity to engage with all the different perspectives on this heritage, even where they are contradictory or controversial. I am able to respond to what I see/hear/do, and I can leave my own traces for visitors that will come after me. This exhibition is a reflection of the rich and diverse fabric of heritage expressions and our society, and I and everyone else become part of it.

 

The museum that is about my heritage in 2030 creates plenty of opportunities for me to do heritage work. I can engage with, express, reaffirm, and reinvent my sense of heritage and thus my place within this society. The museum knows that this is precisely it’s job: to facilitate engagement and heritage work. There are no preferred readings here. It’s a place of making visible what may otherwise be hidden. It’s a place of negotiation.

 

A museum in 2030 is consequently all about people and providing an infrastructure for the above. It is not about collections. In fact, the most progressive museums no longer have their own collections at all. They focus on facilitating a third space, leaving collecting, research and collections care to archives, libraries and universities. What objects they need for an exhibition, they either crowd-source or borrow from other collection holders.

 

This is also reflected in staff expertise. The best museum directors and curators in 2030 are those who entirely blend into the background. They are outstanding at supporting (heritage) communities in expressing what is relevant to them and their societies; they facilitate co-created exhibitions and activities to the highest interpretive standards and so create opportunities for visitors. Interviews with these celebrated museum folks focus on the input from (heritage) communities and the relevance of the outputs to these communities and visitors. The previously called ‘subject specialists’ have migrated to other institutions along with the collections they were experts on.

 

In 2030, every museum has detailed knowledge of their visitors’ and staff profiles, particularly around ethnicity (in German ‘migrant background’) and socio-economic background. Museums understand that this is the prerequisite to ensuring there are no lingering racist biases within their structures and processes. In fact, any museum unable to produce such data stops receiving any public funding because the task is clear: a museum must be fully representative of, and fully serve, the whole of their society in all its diversity. So, when I search for the percentage of museum directors with a ‘migrant background’ this information is not only immediately available, I also find out that yes, the proportion is about the same as people ‘with migrant background’ in our society as a whole.

 

The same is true for audiences. Consequently, in 2030, every museum has an Audience Development Plan alongside a stringent Audience Research Programme.

 

In 2030, museums understand that they themselves have sometimes troubling histories; that they are part of socio-political hegemonies, and that they are as receptive to behaviours detrimental to inclusion and equality as other institutions. Therefore, they are in a constant process of self-reflection, constantly rechecking and recalibrating their efforts so that they remain the polyvocal, democratic and representative third spaces they intend to be.

 

And finally, in 2030 I am no longer forced to leave my coat and hand over my handbag because the museum will actually treat me as an adult.

 

 

Notes

[1] I am primarily thinking of museums here that traditionally fall into the broad category of ‘history’ museums. Art museums that present art as cultural heritage will be similar in 2030 to what I describe in this post, at least I hope so. Art museums that present art ‘just’ as art, well, I would like to consider that separately. However, since I come from a cultural heritage background, that’s not where my immediate interest lies. Maybe another time.

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2 thoughts on “Imagining Museums in 2030

  1. Dear Nicole, I really liked your futuristic museum time machine … I share with you the vision … Museums are always a reflection of the societies of which they are a part … I want the vision of your time machine to come true and our societies to be wise and mature to support museums from your 2030 vision…
    I am sure that it is a good start for us to celebrate and support the communities and museums that are already realizing this vision, if not completely, at least partially and with good intentions 🙂 Cheers!

    1. Hello Dragana, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed my little excursion into the future. And indeed, there are – luckily – museums already on the way, and what I find particularly encouraging is that the new museum professionals are considering all of this already as fairly self-evident. I can’t wait for them to take over.
      As I always seem to play devil’s advocate, I do want to pick up on your comment about good intentions :-): one thing I do hope is that museums in 2030 really do check their work and processes through rigorous data gathering. Meaning well is often not good enough and it can lead to people having the wrong impression of their actual impact. Sadly, I’ve seen that a lot too. Cheers!

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