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New Museum Definition and the Decolonization of Museums – Museum Visitor Experience

New Museum Definition and the Decolonization of Museums

Landing of Columbus, 1846, John Vanderlyn (1775–1852), oil on canvas, 12'H x 18'W, Placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda 1847
Landing of Columbus, 1846, John Vanderlyn (1775–1852), oil on canvas, 12’H x 18’W, Placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda 1847

Today during a video call I was asked “tell us about this new definition of “museum””

ICOM New Proposed Definition of “Museum”:

“Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people. Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.”

Executive Board of ICOM, proposed the new museum definition at its 139th session in Paris on 21-22 July 2019.

Previous ICOM Definition of “Museum”

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

Adopted by the 22nd General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, on 24 August 2007.

Museums Perpetuating Colonization

Central to the new definition of “museum” is the decolonization of museums. Part of the new museum definition is museums themselves are part of the history and perpetuation of colonization. That museums are presenting a point of view of “history” (a furthering of colonization) instead of a point of view of “histories” and multiple points of views.

“the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.”
“the action of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use.”

The latest thinking is one of co-creation and that museum participant is an active participant in the creation and communication of “history” and that first person history is a more inclusion view and history and that curators, historians, are empowered by the museum to present a single “correct” viewpoint instead of a multicultural multi perspective viewpoint.

Empathy, User Centric (Visitor Centric) Tools, Human Centered Design, Empathy for the user, Stakeholder are not the visitor


New Museum Definition and the Decolonization of Museums, Resources:

  1. ICOM “Creating a new museum definition”
  2. Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials (MDPP) report and recommendations approved by ICOM’s Executive Board December 2018
  3. American Alliance of Museums Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Resources
  4. American Alliance of Museums Core Standards for Museums
  5. Museum Workers Speak
  6. What does it mean to decolonize a museum?
  7. How to decolonize a museum, Sarah Jilani argues that Western institutions must interrogate their own colonial histories
  8. Decolonizing the Museum Mind

Author MarkW

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