Who doesn’t enjoy going to a seminar and finding that most of what’s being said resonates with the things that you are trying to do at your workplace? Even better if you can go to the seminar without leaving your desk!
Recently I (Museum Curator speaking here) linked into a conference on the very apt theme: What are University Museums for? The conference, held at Oxford University’s famous Ashmolean Museum in March 2013, focused on the roles of Education, Research, and Public Engagement. The role of stewardship, looking after the museum collection, which was once accepted as a sufficient task in itself, was now recognised as serving these three primary roles.
Nor did anyone think that it was ok to be boring: museums must be places of wonder and excitement; a pleasure to visit as well as a learning experience of high order.
In terms of teaching, some of the buzz phrases were ‘object-based learning’ and cross-disciplinary as well as inter-disciplinary experience.
“What do museums do for students?” asked Giovanna Vitelli of the Oxford Student Engagement Programme. “In the context of university education I think that the skills and perspectives available through well-structured quality engagement with collections can have significant benefits and can not only enrich a young person’s understanding of the past but foster durable, sustainable connections between the past and present through the student’s ownership of those connections…”
Another point that resonated was the recognition that universities are rich incubators of research that can inform exhibitions for the public good as well as for students.
“…You are the translators!” Hedley Swain of the Arts Council England told the 100 conference participants and those of us listening in via the internet. “This is the most fascinating thing about museums altogether – to take incredibly complicated big ideas and turn them into something that will have a resonance with other people…wider audiences. Not only is that something that you should be doing but I think it’s an incredibly exciting thing.”
Presenters noted the ways in which museums have changed in recent decades, responding to expectations that they should be relevant to their audiences and seek to make a positive difference.
“It is no longer the role of the museum to contain knowledge but to facilitate the flow and the growth of knowledge.” Nick Poole, UK Collections Trust.
Words to live by, here at the UWI Museum.
What’s your view of museums? What’s their role?