Museum Activism: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Museum Activism

1st Edition

Edited by Robert R. Janes, Richard Sandell


412 pages

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pub: 2019-01-18
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Only a decade ago, the notion that museums, galleries and heritage organisations might engage in activist practice, with explicit intent to act upon inequalities, injustices and environmental crises, was met with scepticism and often derision. Seeking to purposefully bring about social change was viewed by many within and beyond the museum community as inappropriately political and antithetical to fundamental professional values. Today, although the idea remains controversial, the way we think about the roles and responsibilities of museums as knowledge-based, social institutions is changing. Museum Activism examines the increasing significance of this activist trend in thinking and practice.

At this crucial time in the evolution of museum thinking and practice, this ground-breaking volume brings together more than fifty contributors working across six continents to explore, analyse and critically reflect upon the museum’s relationship to activism. Including contributions from practitioners, artists, activists and researchers, this wide-ranging examination of new and divergent expressions of the inherent power of museums as forces for good, and as activists in civil society, aims to encourage further experimentation and enrich the debate in this nascent and uncertain field of museum practice.

Museum Activism elucidates the largely untapped potential for museums as key intellectual and civic resources to address inequalities, injustice and environmental challenges. This makes the book essential reading for scholars and students of museum and heritage studies, gallery studies, arts and heritage management and politics. It will be a source of inspiration to museum practitioners and museum leaders around the globe.


"Museums have woken from their slumber. Here is a clarion call to leave behind the ‘immorality of inaction’ and confront a troubled world, a threatened planet, and threats to cultural diversity, equality and justice. This volume documents the extraordinary range of ways in which museum activism, as an integral and necessary part of contemporary museum practice, is at work in the 21st century. Janes and Sandell marshal an impressive line-up of authors across the globe who are using the ‘civic resource’ of the museum to bring about environmental, social and political change. The book is a handbook for this urgent task. Read it and join the struggle!"

- Conal McCarthy, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

"Are museums shrines to the past, hubs of engagement for the present, or shapers of the future? Assembling dozens of contributions by leading and new voices in museum studies, Museum Activism targets the core values and principles guiding museum practice today with the aim of transforming the way we think about the social role of museums. This book offers a deep reflection on the limits and potential for museum activism at a time of deepening economic inequality and environmental collapse, a bold call for action for the international museum community, and a field guide to museum activism in practice. Slaying the zombie myth of institutional neutrality that excuses institutional complacency and inaction, it argues for a vision of the museum as an ally and agent of change. Activists around the world are calling on museums to leverage their cultural power to help shape the future for the common good. This book is an insider’s guide to making it happen."

- Beka Economopoulos, Founding Director of The Natural History Museum, USA, a traveling museum and museum transformation project

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Notes on Contributors



1 Posterity Has Arrived: The Necessary Emergence of Museum Activism

Robert R. Janes and Richard Sandell

Part 1 Nurturing Activism

2 Detoxing and Decolonising Museums

Sara Wajid and Rachael Minott

3 Growing an Activist Museum Professional

Elizabeth Wood and Sarah Cole

4 Dividing Issues and Mission-driven Activism: Museum Responses to Migration Policies and the Refugee Crisis

Maria Vlachou

5 Access as Activism: Bringing the Museum to the People

Catherine Kudlick and Edward M. Luby

6 Fossil Fuel Sponsorship and the Contested Museum: Agency, Accountability and Arts Activism

Paula Serafini and Chris Garrard

7 The Activist Role of Museum Staff

Victoria Hollows

8 From the Ground Up: Grassroots Social Justice Activism in American Museums

Laura-Edythe S. Coleman and Porchia Moore

9 Spectacular Defiance

Julie McNamara

10 ‘I’m Gonna Do Something’: Moving Beyond Talk in The Museum

Bernadette Lynch

11 Feminism and the Politics of Friendship in the Activist Museum

Viv Golding

Part 2 Activism in Practice

12 Memory Exercises: Activism, Symbolic Reparation, and Non-repetition in Colombia’s National Museum of Memory

Cristina Lleras, Michael Andrés Forero Parra, Lina Díaz and Jennifer Carter

13 Auto Agents: Inclusive Curatorship and its Political Potential

Jade French

14 Museums as Public Forums for 21st Century Societies: a Perspective from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe

Njabulo Chipangura and Happinos Marufu

15 Museums in the Climate Emergency

Steve Lyons and Kai Bosworth

16 Activism, Objects and Dialogues: Re-engaging African Collections at the Royal Ontario Museum

Silvia Forni, Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine

17 Museological Activism and Cultural Citizenship: Collecting the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement

Selina Ho and Vivian Ting

18 Museums in the Age of Intolerance

Sharon Heal

19 Activist Practice Through Networks: A Case Study in Museum Connections

Mercy McCann

20 Whose Memories for Which Future? Favela Museums and the Struggle for Social Justice in Brazil

Marcelo Lages Murta

21 From Vision to Action: The Journey Towards Activism at St Fagans National Museum of History

Sioned Hughes and Elen Phillips

22 Active Museums: Inside Out

Moya McFadzean, Liza Dale-Hallett, Tatiana Mauri and Kimberley Moulton

23 Quiet is the New Loud? : On Activism, Museums and Changing the World

Åshild Andrea Brekke

24 Heritage and Queer Activism

Sean Curran

Part 3 Assessing Activism

25 The Activist Spectrum in United States Museums

Dina A. Bailey

26 Up Against It: Contending with Power Asymmetries in Museum Work

Kevin Coffee

27 Taking a Position: Challenging the Anti-authorial Turn in Art Curating

Lynn Wray

28 Memory Activism and the Holocaust Memorial Institutions of the 21st century

Diana I. Popescu

29 Advocacy and Activism: A Framework for Sustainability Science in Museums

Sandra L. Rodegher and Stacey Vicario Freeman

30 Narratives of Transformation: Stories of Impact from Activist Museums

Jennifer Bergevin

31 Memorial Museums at the Intersection of Politics, Exhibition and Trauma: The study of the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum

Bridget Conley

32 ‘I Attack this Work of Art Deliberately’: Suffragette Activism in the Museum

Nicola Gauld

33 Museums, Activism and Social Media (or, how Twitter challenges and changes museum practice)

Jennie Carvill Schellenbacher

34 Unprecedented Times? Shifting Press Perceptions on Museums and Activism

Jenny Kidd


About the Editors

Robert R. Janes is a Visiting Fellow at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Museum Management and Curatorship, and the founder of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. He has devoted his career to championing museums as important social institutions that can make a difference in the lives of individuals and their communities.

Richard Sandell is Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, UK. His research and practice is concerned with the social roles and responsibilities of museums, galleries and heritage sites and, in particular, their capacity to shape the moral and political climate within which human rights are experienced.

About the Series

Museum Meanings

Museums have undergone enormous changes in recent decades; an ongoing process of renewal and transformation bringing with it changes in priority, practice and role, as well as new expectations, philosophies, imperatives and tensions that continue to attract attention from those working in, and drawing upon, wide-ranging disciplines.

Museum Meanings presents new research that explores diverse aspects of the shifting social, cultural and political significance of museums and their agency beyond, as well as within, the cultural sphere. Interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and international perspectives and empirical investigation are brought to bear on the exploration of museums’ relationships with their various publics (and analysis of the ways in which museums shape – and are shaped by – such interactions).

Theoretical perspectives might be drawn from anthropology, cultural studies, art and art history, learning and communication, media studies, architecture and design and material culture studies, amongst others. Museums are understood very broadly – including art galleries, historic sites and other cultural heritage institutions – as are their relationships with diverse constituencies.

The Series Editors invite proposals that explore the political and social significance of museums and their ethical implications. If you have an idea for a book that you think would be appropriate for the series, then please contact the Series Editors to discuss further.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Museum Studies
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology