Are Museums Irrelevant?
Museums are rarely acknowledged in the global discussion of climate change, environmental degradation, the inevitability of depleted fossil fuels, and the myriad local issues concerning the well-being of particular communities – suggesting the irrelevance of museums as social institutions. At the same time, there is a growing preoccupation among museums with the marketplace, and museums, unwittingly or not, are embracing the values of relentless consumption that underlie the planetary difficulties of today.
Museums in a Troubled World argues that much more can be expected of museums as publicly supported and knowledge-based institutions. The weight of tradition and a lack of imagination are significant factors in museum inertia and these obstacles are also addressed. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, combining anthropology ethnography, museum studies and management theory, this book goes beyond conventional museum thinking.
Robert R. Janes explores the meaning and role of museums as key intellectual and civic resources in a time of profound social and environmental change. This volume is a constructive examination of what is wrong with contemporary museums, written from an insider’s perspective that is grounded in both hope and pragmatism. The book’s conclusions are optimistic and constructive, and highlight the unique contributions that museums can make as social institutions, embedded in their communities, and owned by no one.
Table of Contents
Prologue Time Immemorial The Willow Lakers The Curator The Exhibit Technician The Chief Executive Officer The Future 1. Museums and Irrelevance Troubling Questions Sobering Assumptions Uncertainty, Elitism and Myopia 2. A Troubled World The Absence of Stewardship A Troubled World Our Lethal Footprint A Virtual Impression Killing Our Relatives – Close and Distant Enter Museums Homogenizing the Ethnosphere Diagnosing the Assault on Stewardship 3. It’s a Jungle in Here: Museums and their Self-Inflicted Challenges The Three Agendas The Fallacy of Authoritative Neutrality The Lone Museum Director Management Myopia The Consequences of Hierarchy: Learning from Hunters Museum Exhibitions: Ploughing Old Ground Collections: Museums as Consumption 4. Debunking the Marketplace Corporatism Has Arrived Back to the Beginning A Clash of Values The Anatomy of Failure Courting the Corporatists: A Cautionary Tale Business Literacy Methods Aren’t Values 5. Searching for Resilience? Resilient Innovators Why Resilience? Resilient Values Assuming Responsibility 6. The Mindful Museum Mindfulness Museum Chatter Thinking Orthogonally Museum Mindfulness Museums for a Troubled World 7. Museums: Stewards or Spectators? A Brief Retrospective The Consequences of Ignoring the Present Renewal – Denial is Not An Alternative In Praise of Museums
'Ultimately, in sounding this warning so loudly and clearly, Museums in a Troubled World is a courageous book. It is Janes’ gift to a field that has frustrated him for decades but for which he still has great passion and hope.’ – Museum Management and Curatorship
'Intelligent, passionate and provocative, Janes reminds us all that the museum can – and must – play a leading role in building a sustainable future.' – James M. Bradburne, Director General, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy
"I can’t remember when a book has so engaged, enraged and encouraged me. Jane’s book provides a challenging guide for all of us who continually agitate and seek to understand the consequences of our actions, renewing and refreshing a museum’s position in its community." --Museum
'I commend the book to anyone who wants to share in iconoclastic and original thinking about museums and their roles in society now and in the future.' – Suzanne Keene, Reader Emeritus at University College London, UK
'Robert Janes is not only one of Canada’s most distinguished museologists but a fine writer. Museums in a Troubled World reaches far beyond the exhibition gallery to become a wise and witty critique of the forces that threaten the cultural health of our civilisation.' – Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress
'Museums in a Troubled World, lays out the challenges facing the museum field in the 21st century and issues a clearly crafted, articulate charge for museums "to help create the future, grounded in their unique blend of the past and the present." This is an important work that should be read, and enjoyed, by museum professionals everywhere.' – Ford Bell, President of the American Association of Museums
'First, a hot tip. Save yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars on museum conferences for the next year or two by buying and reading this book. It explores all the issues that any conference will cover, and more. These are the issues that museum people and many others should debate vigorously if a sustainable future
for museums as meaningful contributors to society is to be found.' – Stuart Davies, Curator: The Museum Journal