Three current models of museum and art gallery developments – what questions do they pose?

Musing about recent news on museums and art galleries, there seem to me to be three strands of museums models or experiences developing that trigger interesting questions:

Larger public museums and art galleries are expanding with new and exciting building projects to bring more of their growing collections out of storage and provide different types of spaces to accommodate artists new ways of working (Sydney Modern).  Yet they are under increasing funding pressures with central and local government funds decreasing and sponsorships scrutinised or even opposed by artists and the public (Manchester science festival partners withdraw over Shell sponsorship). At the same time expectations are increasing in particular around visitor numbers and their role as tourist attractions. Big name ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions and new building extensions attract large audiences, but naturally can’t be sustained every year – and visitor numbers often become the one and only measure that gets zoomed in on as the sign of success or failure (Major London museums see visitor numbers plummet) with more subtle effects only discussed inside the sector.

Local museums are striving to differentiate themselves by better connecting with their local communities, involving the community into designing the experience and thereby being more relevant to them. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History has rebuilt itself with this strategy and is now leading a new global initiative to spread this more widely and to make museums OF/BY/FOR ALL in their respective communities.

Private museums are increasingly opened by wealthy art collectors. They can act without public funding pressures and are essentially only responsible to their own vision and tastes. The Glenstone Museum, for example, is due to open an extension next month said to be “…designed around visitor experience rather than maximizing the number of visitors who cross its threshold” to avoid the “Mona Lisa moment”. Are these new ‘slow art’ experiences or are they elitist in a counter reaction to the ‘democratisation’ of art in the last few decades? Or are private museums just providing a commodity experience based on the art market and modelled on the major public museums? (Billionaires have franchised the modern art museum)

Interesting developments that pose challenging questions and dilemmas around what the role of museums is, how arts and culture should be funded, what we consider inclusive or elitist, what experiences we value and enable or how we measure success…

Author: sabine.doolin

Strategy consultant working with the cultural sector

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