Museums and measuring performance, part I

Last week, Trilce Navarrete and I attended a debate at the Reinwardt Academy of cultural heritage in Amsterdam on performance indicators and changing roles of museums in the present “information society.” The debate was part of a monthly series called Erfgoedarena (Heritage Arena), co-organised by the Reinwardt Academy and the Netherlands Institute for Heritage (NIH). In this first part of the post, I’ll provide a brief overview of the debate. In part II, I’ll link the debate to two books on the politics of policy making, and will raise some points for discussion.

The NIH asked freelance consultant Natasja Wehman last year to explore the particular shapes the changing roles of museums might take.  Her report can be found here (in Dutch). Wehman signalled 4 possible scenarios, or roles:

1. the museum as networker: the institute is up-to-speed about things happening around the museum, functions as a conduit, facilitates existing (knowledge) networks. This can take different shapes, depending on the museum

2. the museum as a laboratory: also comes in different guises, f.i. as a space for contemporary (new media) artists to experiment, or art-science lab, or cooperation with creative industry

3. the validator: museum as knowledge and information expert, but with a 21st century twist: the museum as cultural producer instead of reproducer

4. the innovator: combination of the three scenarios above. According to Wehman, this is the ideal museum of the future. ‘Possession’, either the possession of a collection and/or of knowledge, she argues,  is now usually put first. But museums are losing their monopoly on these ‘possessions’. They need to innovate, or transform. The representatives she interviewed mentioned a number of relevant preconditions for that transformation: a. work together, b. create opportunities for research & development, c. create time, d. be aware of relevance for society at large. Wehman adds that museums need to create new ways to engage with audiences, and need to realize that the meaning and relevance of a museum is not static but in flux.  (post continues in part two)


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