Brown Bag February 20th - Dr Robert Janes

Brown Bag - Wednesday 20th February 2013, Dr Robert Janes, 'Museum Management Revisited: Issues and Aspirations'

On Wednesday 20 February 2013 Dr Robert Janes, Editor-in-Chief of Museum Management and Curatorship, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calgary in Canada, author of books including:  Museums in a Troubled World : renewal, irrelevance, or collapse? (2009) and Museums and the Paradox of Change: a case study in urgent adaptation (1995) and co-editor of Museum Management and Marketing (2007), visited the University of Leicester School of Museum Studies Brown Bag Seminar Series, to discuss a variety of management issues facing museums in the present and for the future, highlighting some key issues and aspirations for museum professionals to consider.

Bob Janes began the seminar by highlighting “a seeming lack of foresight and discernment perceptible within mainstream museums”, before going on to speculate upon what might be possible to improve such a situation for the future.[1] 

Referencing Stephen Weil, Bob noted that “there is no “essence of museum” that must be preserved at all costs”.[2]  Thus Bob asserted the necessity for staff to critically reflect upon all aspects of the work of museums to ensure their continued relevance and worth within society.  Bob articulated the necessity for museums to make a contribution to enhancing community well-being, and stressed the need for museums to become more integrated within society in order to achieve such an aim.  Bob emphasised the need for museums to switch their attention from day to day problem solving to helping to “create an image of a desirable future” or toward aiming to “invent a new future for themselves and their communities”.

Bob highlighted the continuous need for change in order to invent a new future, and stressed the necessity for museums to overcome the obstacles to change prevalent within individual organisations and within the sector more generally.  Bob suggested that the claim of neutrality is one such obstacle restraining museums from positive change.  Bob argued rather that museum leaders should be asking of themselves “what should we as a field contribute to society?” or “for what and for whom do we stand?”[3]  Bob suggested that museum leaders need also to confront the received sanctity of collections to ensure more effective and efficient use of collections and a rationalisation of collections where required.  The emphasis on earned revenues was questioned, with Bob suggesting that some museum activities simply do not fit within the market economy.  Bob also called for shared authority to have a greater emphasis within museum organisations rather than institutions simply following traditional leadership structures.  Overall, Bob was clear that museum professionals need to become more active in relation to benefitting a wider society, debunking the idea that museums can claim to be socially responsible simply by holding collections and delivering education and entertainment activities. 

Turning towards the future, Bob outlined some of his aspirations for the museum field for the years to come.  Above all Bob emphasised the need for museums to take the chance to make a difference in society.  Bob returned to the necessity for critical reflection among museum staff, and a questioning of assumptions, even a questioning of the assumptions underlying current success.  Bob calls for an emboldening of individual responsibility and the cultivation of personal agency among museum staff, in order to increase museum professionals’ capacity to take action of benefit and relevance for the museum institution and the wider world.  Bob also calls for museums to explore the new social economy, suggesting that this sector provides an opportunity for museums to overcome their insularity and to seek new opportunities for development.  Bob highlighted the need for museums to broaden their governance, to involve communities and to extend their civic reach.  Furthermore, Bob stressed the need for museums to become better integrated within the civic arena, noting the opportunities for improved museum sustainability to be found through closer collaboration with other social agencies.  Bob highlighted the need for museum leaders to consider new and different approaches to funding, along with becoming more experimental in various ways.  Bob outlined his hope for museums to become more committed to the social dimension of sustainability and to more closely align with the issues and aspirations of their communities.  Bob called for “intellectual activism”[4] to make knowledge more accessible and useful to communities, in order to “foster individual and community participation in the quest for greater awareness and workable solutions to our worsening global problems”.[5]  Bob also called for museums to make connections between the collections they hold, and the natural and cultural challenges confronting society in the present.  Overall, Bob articulated his desire to see museums becoming more visionary and more involved in the wider world beyond the museum walls, operating as a force for social good.

In conclusion, Bob stated that “Museums, as public institutions, are morally and intellectually obliged to question and challenge the status quo and officialdom, whenever necessary, as resistance and independence of thought are essential to renewal”,[6] leaving seminar participants, staff and PhD students alike, enthused and inspired in contemplation of their role in contributing to the critical thinking and questioning essential to such renewal.

[1] Robert Janes, ‘Museum Management Revisited: Issues and Aspirations’, Brown Bag Seminar, The School of Museum Studies, The University of Leicester, February 20, 2013, transcription, p. 1.
[2] Ibid., pp. 1-2.
[3] Ibid., p. 5.
[4] Robert Janes, ‘Museum Management Revisited: Issues and Aspirations’, Brown Bag Seminar, The School of Museum Studies, The University of Leicester, February 20, 2013, transcription, pp. 19-20.
[5] Ibid., p. 20.
[6] Ibid., p. 20.

Dr Janes would be happy to hear any comments you may have on this, and we at The Attic would welcome a lively discussion in the comments area below!


MuseumWriter said…
Bob emphasised the need for museums to switch their attention from day to day problem solving to helping to “create an image of a desirable future” or toward aiming to “invent a new future for themselves and their communities”.

I think I was most taken by this statement at the Brown Bag, since I highlighted it in my own notes. I believe I agree wholeheartedly and I feel that Bob stated a very important issue in a wonderfully concise way.

In all the museums I have encountered in my professional and academic career, far too many of them get sidetracked daily with the little things. Now, some distraction of the little things is necessary, but over distraction means that the larger picture is ignored by all staff (even, in some cases, the Director).

How can museums ever hope to evolve and change for the better when they are bogged down by such day to day problems? There should be at least some staff that do keep the larger picture in mind and can encourage the other staff members who may be distracted by practicalities. Is that not what the project manager should do? Seems to me as if each museum should have a PM who's job it is to, as Bob says "create an image of a desirable future" for the institution.

In all, however, it was an interesting a lively presentation and quite a good turn out!
Dr J said…
I am deeply impressed by the use of footnote references in this write-up!

While I applaud Dr Janes' optimism and inspirational call to arms, as a museum historian, I question the limits of the ability of the museum institution to move beyond its imperialist, colonialist project, as it still defines the centrality of museums in contemporary society. Serena and I have had amy discussions about this, and it still seems to me that much of the calls for social inclusion and social justice and the social economy in the museum sector smack of restitution and revisionism by people of white middle-class privilege (a class to which i myself belong and in which I am painfully immobilized).

Popular Posts