Looking Reality in the Eye: Museums and Social Responsibility

Looking Reality in the Eye: Museums and Social Responsibility

Looking Reality in the Eye: Museums and Social Responsibility

Looking Reality in the Eye: Museums and Social Responsibility

Synopsis

The articles in this book are outstanding examples of socially responsible museum work, based on the premise that museums, galleries and science centres must move beyond education and entertainment to embrace socially relevant missions. Being a socially responsible museum means addressing issues of relevance to ones community, as well as identifying issues and challenges where a museums expertise can make a positive difference. This book presents nine rich and diverse case studies of successful civic engagement, which are both practical and engaging. Looking Reality in the Eye provides new directions for assisting museums in achieving long-term sustainability within their communities, while at the same time providing a rich source of ideas on how this can be achieved.

Excerpt

Robert R. Janes and Gerald T. Conaty

“…for what worked yesterday becomes the gilded cage of today.”
Peter Block (2002: 31)

WHAT WAS OLD IS NEW AGAIN

The idea that museums should serve a social purpose is not a new concept. Modern museology has its roots in the “cabinets of curiosities” that were developed by the gentry during the Age of Discovery (fourteenth to sixteenth centuries) and those collections that were owned by the state were often used for larger, ideological purposes.

Museums are the products of the society that supports them. Although the concept of a museum can be traced to ancient Greece, the philosophy and purpose of contemporary museums were shaped in eighteenthcentury Europe. It is important to note these historical developments if we are to understand and appreciate the enduring role of museums as social institutions.

As the Age of Discovery made Europeans aware of the vastness and diversity of the world that lay beyond the continental boundaries, the explorers of these new worlds brought back samples of natural and human phenomena for those who had financed the expeditions. These collections were often housed in rooms filled with “cabinets of curiosities” where the gentry could reflect upon the strange wonders of the world.

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