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SHCG response to Museum 2020 discussion paper

The SHCG committee was invited to respond to the Museums Association's Museums 2020 discussion paper on behalf of its members. The following shows our response which was submitted to the Museums Association on October 30th, 2012.

"Nobody within our membership would disagree that museums should be at the heart of their communities, impact on social justice, equalities and agendas.  However the committee of Social History Curators Group has brought forward 6 points in response to the discussion paper Museums 2020.

1. The paper focuses a great deal on generalism rather than specialism.
This implies that there is a choice between looking after and knowing the collections or having impact in the community.  SHCG doesn’t feel that this is a choice, the two can co-exist.  Knowing about your collections, collecting responsibly, and saying that this is a key role/objective of a museum does not automatically mean a return to the ‘ivory towers’ days.

2. Collections representation doesn’t appear.
Further to point 1, we feel that it’s important that museums know what they’ve got in their collections through dedicated staff. If you don’t know what you’ve got and have the knowledge and experience to understand its relevance and interpret it properly, you can’t engage communities with the museum and its collection thus fulfilling any of the consultation’s ideas.  Museums shouldn’t lose sight of their USP; the collections. A shopping centre can do outreach, but the museum has its collections with which to bring a community closer its own heritage.

3. The discussion paper seems to ignore the real worries of many museums for the future – funding and staff.
Budgets are being cut because museums are not seen as ‘core’ services in many local authorities.  This has an impact on the ability to meaningfully, tangibly and practically respond to the ideas within the discussion paper.  Lack of funding and staff is not an excuse, but it is a factor that is highly relevant at the moment.

4. Many museums already address local social issues and socially engage.
Smaller museums are already do impactful work in their communities and we didn’t feel that the discussion paper acknowledged this. 

5. Perhaps the MA could lead the way in communicating our audience research more effectively.
It’s not about changing what we do or stopping museums striving to achieve the vision in the discussion paper but one of improving how we communicate the value of what we do.  We could work on collating impacts that are already happening rather than completely changing our focus.

6. Have the MA asked any audiences if they want flexible display spaces instead of permanent displays?
A consultation with the communities that we are speaking on behalf of (not just in London or the south east) would be very interesting.  What comes out of community consultation is often quite different from what museums presume participants would want or how they identify with their museum or surroundings.

SHCG Committee 2012-2013"


Is there anything else you think we should have said? What were your views of the discussion paper? We will be highlighting the discussion on the SHCG email list and would welcome any responses from our members. Alternatively, you can contact us via Twitter or on Facebook.