I’ve got a few presentations coming up that explore a re-imagining of museums, so I’ve been thinking about the original founding visions of specific museums (based on e.g. What would a digital museum be like if there was never a physical museum?), and whether there’s dissonance between mission statements based in institutional history and those you might write if we were inventing museums today.
For an example of where my thoughts are wondering, check this out (from the excellent ‘Museums should not fear the art snobs‘):
…it was only with the emergence of aestheticism and competition from universities in the late 19th century that curators started making exhibitions for each other and for people of their class. Most earlier Victorian museums were educational institutions (not just institutions with education departments). In Britain, both the Liberal Henry Cole (founding Director of the V&A) and the Tory John Ruskin created museums that aimed to achieve the widest possible audience in the name of public education. The Met was founded “for the purpose…of encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of arts to manufacture and practical life…and, to that end, of furnishing popular instruction.” In 1920, the Met’s president Robert de Forest wrote that it was “a public gallery for the use of all people, high and low, and even more for the low than for the high, for the high can find artistic inspiration in their own homes”.
So I’m curious, and if you’re up for it, I have a little task for you (yes, you, over there) – what was the founding statement for your museum, and what is your current mission statement? And if you’re feeling creative, what would you like your favourite museum’s mission statement to be?