At meeting in Kyoto, global body debates how to define and protect museumsHistorians in the News
tags: museums, historians, archives, Kyoto, International Council of Museums
What is a museum and how can its exhibits, which often include the world’s most important cultural properties, be protected from natural disasters, including earthquakes?
Those questions formed the basis of much discussion at the Kyoto assembly of the International Council of Museums, or ICOM, last week. Over 4,000 museum directors, curators, archeologists, historians, anthropologists, art historians and others from around the globe gathered for the weeklong meeting.
The main agenda item was reaching an agreement on what, exactly, a museum is — in order to distinguish such facilities from those designed solely for entertainment or propaganda purposes. The question sounds simple, but reaching agreement on an answer proved difficult.
At the heart of the debate is determining the role museums should play in the 21st century, and the extent to which they should engage the public. Should museums primarily be devoted to historical and archeological research, and physical preservation? Should public exhibits of artifacts be conducted under conditions set entirely by the museum, which in some cases may have changed little in half a century? Or, should there be more engagement with the public in all decisions, including what kinds of exhibits should be financed and shown?
In 2007, ICOM had defined a museum as a “non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”
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