Should the public have a say in what goes into museums?

We posed this and the other four key Great British Art Debate questions to our keen debate fiends over on facebook. Here are some of their thoughts:

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…

– Martin Myrone, Tate Curator

Of course they should!

Not a casting vote, but certainly part of the decision process. Look at the fourth Plinth project that had public involvement. Refusal indicates possible elitism. The Art world when selecting public art needs the public on side just at the public needs the public Art working together to enhance and improve our towns, cities and countryside. Creating inspirational, visionary spaces such as Gormely’s ‘Another Place’. So it should be with the museum space.

– MO, Facebook

No, they shouldn’t. Contrary to the popular belief, love of art is not something one is born with, but something you earn as you get along. To have an opinion on something, one has to start by gaining knowledge and experience and with that a voice. First people need to be educated on how to look for beauty in art.

– AL, Facebook

What do you think?

Posted on by Hannah Flynn
Filed under Questions

About Hannah Flynn

Hannah Flynn is E-Learning Assistant for Tate and Co-Ordinator for the Great British Art Debate online. Her favourite British artist is John Martin.


  1. We think that professionals and artists should be the main group of people to organise exhibitions. However people should have a chance to share their ideas with museums and galleries because they might get some good ideas from this and get more people to come to galleries.

  2. Art is another comfortable form of creative communication, another escapism (whether we like it or not). It is an outpouring of humanity’s need to create, and is certainly not the ‘source of life’ (or a lot of people I know would be dead). There is a huge deal of subjectivity in art; we the public and especially us “artists” enjoy this, due to it giving us a level of control about what we see and believe art is saying. We enjoy art’s mysteries but not the truth, galleries but not reality. Is ‘art’ going to change the world? Is making ‘art’ going to change the world? Is it actually effective?…Or is it’s comfort just going to help you?

  3. I think a more pertinent thing to question would be, if public opinion is shaped by the choice of curators, and if so, does this ultimately decide what we would like to see more of; would our choices differ from those of a professional?

  4. Museum’s have at their core dual functions of education/ service to the public and then scholarship/preservation of culture. These functions are inextricably linked. And, so a relationship between the understanding the visitors’ desires and the operations of the museum is essential. The issue though lies in what this relationship is. Visitors don’t have the training to weigh in on how artworks are best preserved. Visitors should weigh in from their core competency–their experience with being in the museum and with the museum’s collection. So, rather than curate a show, they should weigh in on what they understood, enjoyed, disliked to make the next show more visitor accessible.

  5. As much as what I am about to say seems like sitting on a fence, it’s a bloody good fence! Having a fair mixture between the two allows for two sorts of interactions in an exhibitory space: one, pro-democratic, but which might show the ebbing of public taste as something to be shown; two, the critical selection of ‘professional’ and highly knowledgeable curators to introduce the new art that might be draw passion, whether it be scorn, hatred or the swoon – that is the art that no one would pick but would be gloriously successful.

  6. it actually wouldn’t really matter because either way the decision would be always subjective. also when we are talking about big art galleries things always work in the way that what is put in those galleries needs to establish itself in the context of the public opinion first anyway. and that’s actually what I might find to be a bit problematic. I mean maybe the role of galleries such as tate modern is indeed to simply show the works of artists that reached a certain relevance and importance inside the art world but then I wonder what’s the big deal about that? I mean anyone could pick up an artist that was being praised all around and then just ad some more importance to what he or she does by placing him or her inside an artistic institution of such a level. but what I would like to see is that this criteria changed. why can’t someone get a spotlight in such “important” art galleries such as tate simply because his or her art is great? so, the question is if tate modern would be willing to exhibit works of someone completely anonymous who by all available standards would present them high quality works for important relevance? or would be he or she rejected simply because he or she wasn’t known enough? so, in this sense the answer to the question is basically that it’s indeed the public that in a way determines what goes in the museums and what not already.

  7. Should the public have a say in what goes into museums?~~~~~~~~~~~ If I am that public, then the answer should probably be no. I have no talent and no sense of what inspires others.. I selfishly know what I love and finding those perfect two or three pieces when I walk into Tate is thrilling. I want the art and the expressions and the feelings in the museums to surprise me. I love to enter and be excited by something I have never experienced. In the Tate I have been overwhelmed with emotion by some exhibitions. I have felt ‘at home and gone inside’ in some pieces of art. Some I will never forget. ~~~~~~~~~~
    Those who choose what will be exhibited are experts on inspiring and teaching, and showing me what I want to know. I wouldn’t mind if you ask the other public what they would like exhibited, but please allow me to be surprised and let me follow where you lead me through art.

  8. Why is there such a lot of snobbery in the art establishment regarding whether or not an artist has been to art college.
    Why don’t we see more self taught artists who have talent being given real opportunities to exhibit in major galleries?