As part of the Re-imagining the Harris project and in partnership with UCLan we recently held a public debate looking at the future of museums. On 6th July 2016 over 65 people ranging from students to museum professionals, funders to local Councillors and university academics to members of our Friends' group, gathered at the Harris to hear three speakers offering fresh perspectives on the role of museums in the 21st century.
Speakers Katy Ashton, Director of the People's History Museum; Janet Dugdale from the Museum of Liverpool & Merseyside Maritime Museum (Liverpool Museums); and Dr Jerome de Groot from the University of Manchester provoked debate, and provided the opportunity for the audience to ask questions.
The panel was chaired by Jon Finch, Re-imagining the Harris Project Leader.
Janet Dugdale began by reading from Mi and Museum City, a children's book which demonstrates the value of museums and how important it is that they remain authentic and relevant. Janet pointed out the long term commitment that comes with taking on or managing a museum but that £1.00 invested in culture generates £5.00 for the economy. Katy Ashton talked about how the People's History Museum became the 'home of ideas worth fighting for' and how that presents both opportunities and challenges. Her experience was that people want to be inspired to tell their own stories through museums. Finally, Dr Jerome de Groot talked about the pressure on universities to make their research more publicly accessible and relevant and made the point that they could learn from the good practice in many museums.
The question and answer session covered a range of topics including discussions about funding and who should run museums, how museums can better involve their communities and how they can deal with difficult moral questions in their displays and exhibitions. The issue of access was addressed specifically with a question which had been sent to the panel in advance:
"How about the issue of (physical) access to a museum? This can be difficult for some, particularly those with impaired sight and hearing for instance and some buildings and collections are clearly not equipped for this? How should this be addressed?"
The panel answered: The issue of access is important to museums, as they must be accessible for everyone. This is a challenge in historical buildings, but even modern, purpose built museum buildings have their own access issues. Despite this, museums “are working” on those issues and the required standards. “Both the People’s History Museum and Liverpool Museums have made improvements, but there is further work to do, and this is being done in consultation with relevant communities”. Whilst museums work on their accessibility, universities become ever more restricted, forbidding spaces, which is a paradox, as universities are ideally diverse places. Collaboration between museums and universities could counter this trend.
You can find out more about this event by reading the blogs written by student audience members. One of them gives an outline of the whole event, while one outlines the questions and answers. See them here: friendsoftheharris.tumblr.com/what-is-the-future-for-museums
You can also see Katy Ashton's presentation and notes here:
We will add the other presentations as we receive them from the speakers.