This week, we’re tapping into a discussion that’s been bubbling away over on the Great British Art Debate.
How far should the public get to decide on what gets shown in national museums and galleries? Does it differ depending on the remit of the museum? Do we think differently about art galleries than we do about history museums or museums of ideas? Here are some of the thoughts that have come up so far. Jim Richardson, founder of Sumo and MuseumNext says:
“I personally feel that we have seen a huge shift in the way the public interact with world around them because of the more interactive internet which has evolved over the past decade. Just as people no longer just see the internet as a place to find information, I think that the public no longer expect didactic experiences from museums, they instead want cultural institutions to be platforms for exchange, places that accept that anyone can have a valid point of view. One element is having a say what goes into museums, this could be by submitting work through an open call for entry, voting from a shortlist for what should appear in an exhibition or interacting with an exhibition in the gallery. Though I believe strongly in the public being given a voice, personally I feel that the majority of an exhibition programme should still be curated in a traditional manner.”
Andrew Bryant, Online Editor of Artists Talking and freelance editor at Tate says:
“I think we do have a say, don’t we? If the public didn’t like what we saw we wouldn’t go and see it and galleries would have to close down. And what, or who, is the public anyway? Aren’t artists a part of the public too? I think there is some truth in this but it only makes sense if the gallery-going public is a true reflection of the whole of our society and it seems from some of the earlier questions that this is probably not the case. The national collection should be just that - a collection of artworks belonging to the nation - and this means all of us, when we go to see these artworks, should feel a sense of belonging, a sense that we can see our own lives represented there. If this is not the case then what can we do to change things?”
Martin Myrone, curator of the John Martin show at Tate Britain says:
“Almost certainly not. There’s a false democracy which I suspect the present government is only going to push forward - which pretends that ‘everyone’ should have a say. Problem is, who feels like they have the right to speak? The big issue with museums and galleries is that not everyone feels comfortable going to them (and I speak from my own experience rather than a ‘museologist’ - the people who speak most on this matter and have the least to say). Think about the proposed ‘free schools’ - the idea that everyone can set up schools and shape them according to their own need sounds nice, but who are the people who have the economic and social confidence to get moving with a project like that… Toby Young, that’s who! Guess it’s a predictable answer from someone who gets paid for doing this, but I think that museums need a ‘professional class’ to manage them, and deliver stuff, but that this professional class need to be informed and aware and responsible, and that means politically self-conscious, about what we do. I’m not pretending that’s the case, though, at least from what I’ve seen…”
What do you think? Should the public have a say in what goes into museums?
The Great British Art Debate is a partnership between Tate Britain, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service and Museums Sheffield, supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and by the MLA’s Renaissance programme.